My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Posts tagged “Hawks

One small wetland, Three lifers!

Having received a rare bird email alert from eBird that told me that trumpeter swans and American bittern had been seen at a small wetland not too far from where I live, I decided to check that place out.

First, I “scouted” the area on Google Earth so that I would have some idea of what the area was like, that helped a lot. It also helped that I just happened to bump into the person who verifies the rare bird reports for eBird here in Kent County, Michigan this morning, and he gave me more info about the place.

After doing my daily walk around home, I ate lunch, then set out for the wetland. When I arrived, it was rather cloudy with a pretty stiff wind out of the northwest. I had barely gotten started down the path when I began spooking birds that I should have gotten photos of. But, since this was my first time at this spot, I wasn’t sure what I would find or where. I tried to go slow and cautiously, but I wasn’t able to sneak up on anything, the birds were spotting me and either running…

Pie billed grebe on the run

Pie billed grebe on the run

…or flying away from me long before I could get a good shot.

Male blue-winged teal in flight

Male blue-winged teal in flight

Northern shovelers in flight

Northern shovelers in flight

I was a bit disappointed, as I could tell that the trumpeter swans had left the pond, I didn’t think that I would ever be able to spot the bittern in the marsh, and overall, things were not going well.

As I approached the far end of the pond, there was a stand of willows and alders there, along what turned out to be a small creek that drains the pond. I could see small songbirds flitting about in the brush, so I put the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) to work at what it does an excellent job of, catching small birds trying to hide from me.

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

Swamp sparrow

Swamp sparrow

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

I was in my element, surrounded by plentiful birds in thick brush, spotting the birds and shooting quickly before they could escape the Beast. To make things better, the sun came out, and eventually, I grew arm weary chasing the small birds with the Beast.

I spotted a very large bird of prey across the pond, and got this one bad photo of it.

Unidentified bird of prey

Unidentified bird of prey

I watched it land, and from the way that it worked its way back into the thickest brush as red-winged blackbirds swarmed it, I think that it was probably an owl of some type, but I could be wrong. Hawks don’t usually hide, that’s something that owls do. I kept an eye out for whatever it was, but never saw it again.

My arms needed a break, so I sat down on the rocks that had been placed along the creek to keep the creek flowing where it is supposed to flow, but my break didn’t last long. The birds just wouldn’t leave me alone.

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

Palm warbler testing the Beast's ability to find it

Palm warbler testing the Beast’s ability to find it

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

It turned out to be a great day, well, except for the wind. But, the sun was out, I was surrounded by birds carrying on, some singing, some just calling, and the Beast was performing well. I spotted a bird that I didn’t think that I had ever gotten photos, sure enough, it was a northern waterthrush! My first lifer of the day.

Northern waterthrush

Northern waterthrush

So, how good is the Beast as a birding lens? This good!

Swamp sparrow

Swamp sparrow

Swamp sparrow

Swamp sparrow

The Sigma lens may not be as sharp as my new 300 mm prime lens, but the auto-focus of the Sigma is much quicker, and it seems to hone in on birds even when they are partially hidden, whereas the new lens will focus on the brush rather than the birds.

I have no idea how long I played around in that small area of brush, but I shot many more photos than what you are seeing here, and I decided that it was getting late, and I should start back.

As I had been photographing the small birds, I saw a sandhill crane spiral in and land in the marsh across the pond from me. I looked for the crane, but was having no luck spotting it in the reeds. A red-winged blackbird came to my rescue, and began to attack the crane, which is how I spotted it.

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

Red-winged blackbird attacking a sandhill crane

I am happy to report that both birds survived, I felt sorry for the crane, it was just looking for food, but in the blackbird’s territory.

Anyway, I continued on my way, watching to blackbirds to see if they would alert me to any other birds, but it was a muskrat that drew my attention to my second lifer of the day, a sora.

Sora

Sora

I got a few so-so shots of flying birds.

Cooper's hawk in flight

Cooper’s hawk in flight

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

Northern shovelers in flight

Northern shovelers in flight

I had about given up on seeing the bittern, I was trying to use my camera as a spotting scope from time to time, but that doesn’t work very well. I rounded a curve in the path, and came eye to eye with one of the bitterns perched in one of the willow bushes on the edge of the marsh. I froze, it took flight.

American bittern in flight

American bittern in flight

It flew across the pond, to where I had been before. I took a step or two in that direction, then decided that I wouldn’t go after the bittern, even though I wasn’t sure how good the photos that I shot were. If I pressed the bittern, it may have left the area for good, and I didn’t want that. So, I turned back around, and just then, a second bittern let out a croak, and took off from very near where the first had been.

American bittern in flight

American bittern in flight

American bittern in flight

American bittern in flight

So, after a lackluster start, the day turned out to be a very good one! Three lifers in a wetland that was less than 80 acres in size makes for an excellent day in my book.

I have one more photo, of the field next to the wetland area.

Dead nettle blooming

Dead nettle blooming

All in all, a very good day after a slow start.

An update, I went back again today, and got yet another lifer, so that makes four from that small wetlands in just two days. But, you’ll have to wait for the next post to find out what it was. ;)

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Spring really arrives!

Saturday

I boxed up and shipped out the defective 300 mm prime lens to start the day, then I spent the rest of the day in the local park where I walk every week day, and many days on the weekends as well. The weather was fabulous, and there were a number of flocks of migrating birds in the area, but I managed to miss all but one of them. I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, here are two of the reasons that I keep on taking photos of the same species of birds that I have already photographed hundreds, if not thousands of times.

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

American crow

American crow

Neither photo is perfect, but the one of the cardinal may be the best of that species that I’ve ever gotten. I knew that the photos of the cardinal were going to be very good, but I didn’t think that they would be great. I wish that the twigs in the foreground weren’t there, but I wanted the tree trunk that is in the background to be there to make it easier for me to get a good exposure of the cardinal. You can’t have everything I suppose.

And I thought that I was having a bad day. I was in a way, I saw winter wrens, fox sparrows, and at least two species of warblers, but I missed all but this fox sparrow.

Fox sparrow

Fox sparrow

And, I almost missed the sparrow as you can see, at least I got a shot of some kind.

I did get a blue headed mallard.

Male mallard

Male mallard

But, most of the day I ended up with photos of birds that ducked at the last second…

Headless brown creeper

Headless brown creeper

…or skulked in the shadows.

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

I didn’t shoot only birds.

Flowing water

Flowing water

I spent quite a bit of time photographing the first crocus of the year, way too much time. ;)

Crocus

Crocus

Crocus

Crocus

Crocus

Crocus

Crocus

Crocus

The next three are identical except for the exposure, I went down 1/3 of a stop between each one, but I can’t decide which one I like best.

Crocus

Crocus

Crocus

Crocus

Crocus

Crocus

That’s interesting, they don’t look that much different here in this post in their small version, but full screen, there’s a great deal of difference in the lighting of each of those three photos.

Crocus

Crocus

The last one is okay, but it was more of a test to see how low I can go with my new tripod, and it passed the test with flying colors! It is really a great piece of kit. I’ve posted a couple of photos with it set-up with the center post flipped to the horizontal position, and that’s how I was able to get the photo of the crocus from the side. Not only does it position the camera very low when required, but it also allow you to keep the main part of the tripod back away from the subject so that you don’t have shadows from the tripod to contend with. The articulated display of the Canon 60 D body is also great when shooting that close to the ground, I only had to kneel in the mud, not lay on my belly in it to see the screen to set-up the shot. ;)

I was a little disappointed that none of the blue crocus were open yet, hopefully they will be on Monday when I return.

Sunday

A clear, frosty start to what promises to be a great day. I don’t have much time this morning, I’m headed to Grand Haven, Michigan for a day of birding along the big lake.

It’s late, but I did make it back home. I went a little crazy out there today, and shot photos of 48 species of birds, well over 400 photos in total.

In the old days, I’d probably do two or three posts from my photos today, but that won’t happen this time, although I do think that one stand alone post is warranted, as you will have seen before this post gets published.

Anyway, I started out at Harbor Island near Grand Haven, Michigan because there have been red-necked grebes seen there lately, which I did find. But, not before seeing many other species first. I’m going to start with a photo of a song sparrow belting out his spring song, because it represents the kind of day it was so well!

Male song sparrow belting out a tune

Male song sparrow belting out a tune

I could do an entire post of just song sparrows singing, but I won’t. Here’s an American tree sparrow instead.

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

Oh, and by the way, I know that no one is interested, but I’ll be updating the photos for many species of birds that I have already posted in the My Photo Life List project, the song sparrows, tree sparrows, starlings, American coot, and horned grebes.

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

It took me a while (and quite a few photos) but I talked the grebe into posing for a series of photos up close and personal, that’s barely cropped at all.

The stand alone post that I’ll do features this coot and the trouble that it has eating a snail.

American coot

American coot

While watching the coot trying for its meal of escargot , I found the red-necked grebes that I had set out for.

Red-necked grebes

Red-necked grebes

Red-necked grebe

Red-necked grebe

My next stop was Lake Harbor Park where Mona Lake empties into Lake Michigan. A number of eagles were flying around, I forgot to turn off the OS of the Beast, and as a result, there’s the ghosting that I get with the OS on in this photo.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

I may have been off a little on the focus as well, I was using the Beast with the Tamron extender, so I had to manually focus the shots of the eagles that I tried.

Here’s a few other photos from my time there.

Brown creeper at 700 mm

Brown creeper at 700 mm

Black morph of a grey squirrel

Black morph of a grey squirrel

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

On to my next stop, which was Pere Marquette Park in Muskegon, on the channel from Muskegon Lake to Lake Michigan. Most of the waterfowl have headed back north already, but I caught a greater scaup preening.

Greater scaup

Greater scaup

A female mallard too cute not to photograph…

Female mallard

Female mallard

…more horned grebes…

Horned grebes

Horned grebes

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

…and to make it a three grebe day, this cute little pie-billed grebe.

Pie-billed grebe

Pie-billed grebe

Pie-billed grebe

Pie-billed grebe

That’s another species that I’ll update the previously done post.

There was one lone male long-tailed duck left.

Male long-tailed duck

Male long-tailed duck

So, then it was around to the other end of Muskegon Lake and the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. The photos that I shot there were all of common species, the only one worth posting is this one of a herring gull checking out its lunch.

Herring gull

Herring gull

Even though I was tired, I made a stop at the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility to see if I could find anything noteworthy there. Way out in some of the flooded farm fields there were snow geese and other waterfowl, but I could just barely make them out with binoculars, they were way too far away for photos, so this bufflehead…

Male bufflehead

Male bufflehead

Male bufflehead

Male bufflehead

…and these hooded mergansers were the only photos that I shot worth posting.

Hooded mergansers

Hooded mergansers

Well, that’s about it for today.

 Monday

I’m still recovering from my bird extravaganza yesterday, and running behind as well, so this will be short.

I noticed a pair of vultures perched in a tree, which I seldom see, so even thought the light was poor, I went ahead and shot photos anyway.

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

When the vulture leapt into flight, I kept shooting.

Turkey vulture taking flight

Turkey vulture taking flight

Turkey vulture taking flight

Turkey vulture taking flight

I spotted a flock of golden-crowned kinglets and managed a few shots of them, along with some photos of empty branches where a kinglet had been a split second before, they sure do move fast, and often!

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

While taking a short break despite being pressed for time, I saw what I thought was a downy woodpecker on a tree nearby, but it didn’t act like a downy, so I decided to give it a closer inspection. It was a good thing that I did, for the bird in question was a male yellow-bellied sapsucker. This photo and several more will be added to the previous post that I did on this species in the My Photo Life List project, as my only photos so far have been poor ones of females of the species.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker

Yellow-bellied sapsucker

The sapsucker looked a bit skittish, and here’s why.

Cooper's hawk

Cooper’s hawk

The Cooper’s hawk was in sight of the sapsucker, so I was surprised that the sapsucker moved around as much as it did, I would have thought that it would freeze in place like most birds do when a hawk is about.

Finally, a photo of a house finch that refused to sing for me.

Male house finch

Male house finch

As long as I had the camera on the finch, it wouldn’t as much as peep, when my arms got too tired to hold the Beast up any longer, the finch would start singing away, until I brought the camera back up again.

Now, it’s time for a shower and a visit to my mom.

Tuesday

It’s a mostly cloudy and cool start to the day, it has really been a fine week so far, and that is forecast to continue into the weekend.

I’m finely getting caught up around here, last night and this morning I update half a dozen of the posts that I’ve already completed in the My Photo Life List project. That’s the great thing about doing that on the web in a blog, as I get better photos of a species, I can go back and add to or replace my earlier photos.

I am also almost fully recovered from this past weekend of spending almost all of both days outdoors, Saturday, lugging the majority of my photo gear, and Sunday, from carrying the Beast and my tripod around all day.  I would say that I was looking forward to a day of not so nice weather so that I could ease up a little, but after the winter that we had here, I’ll keep pushing, and keep on enjoying this string of splendid days!

One other thought about my birding extravaganza on Sunday. I brought back photos of 48 species of birds, granted, some of the photos were pretty bad, but, I read some other birder’s blogs, and they are happy to see 48 species in a day, I got photos of that many species. That’s not my bragging about my birding skills, that’s more a reflection on how great of a place that the State of Michigan is to live if you’re a nature buff, especially if you’re a birder.

I suppose that I could post one photo of each species, but I have switched gears and gone from numbers to quality whenever possible. I could list all the species that I photographed, maybe even list the species that I saw but wasn’t able to get a photo of, such as the peregrine falcon that swooped over me and disappeared before I could get a shot of it, but I don’t want to bore you any more than I already do. The main point is that I truly love living in Michigan with the numerous areas of public access that we have, and our abundant wildlife.

Well, before I prattle on any longer, I suppose that I should get going, and see what I can find today.

I’m back, and I found too much! It was so ominous looking when I started my walk that I came back in to grab the dry bag that I use as a raincoat for the Beast, and there were even a few sprinkles of rain before I got to the park. Along the way, I stopped to try to see how good of a photo that I could get of a turkey vulture in the horrible light.

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

But when I got to the park, the sun broke through the clouds, and I started taking good photos.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing having a bad hair day

Cedar waxwing having a bad hair day

Cedar waxwing having a bad hair day

Cedar waxwing having a bad hair day

I tried to find an angle where I wouldn’t have the branch behind the waxwing with the bad hair, but couldn’t do it.

My attempts at even better photos of the sapsucker from yesterday were ruined by some jerk that insisted on going between myself and the bird, even though I had the camera up, ready for the sapsucker to come out in the open. The same guy has done that to me before, next time, he gets an ear full!

As many photos of chickadees as I have shot, I shouldn’t try any longer for more, but how could I pass up these?

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

I know, way too many, but I couldn’t choose a favorite from among them. I love chickadees to begin with, and getting images that good of them in action always makes me happy.

Most of those were shot very close to the limit of how close the Beast can focus, and were only cropped slightly, which is why they’re so sharp.

I also shot a few of the crocus, but used the Beast. If I had known the weather was going to get better, I would have brought my tripod, other body, and the macro lens, which I will do tomorrow, but here’s a preview.

Crocus

Crocus

And, the same holds true of these maple flowers.

Maple flowers

Maple flowers

I had to rush through the photos from today, as I just got off the phone with my brother, discussing various things related to photography. He has received the 10-20 mm lens that he ordered, and has been posting some awesome photos to Facebook while using it, of both flowers and skyscapes. I want one, more than ever, but it will have to wait.

Wednesday

It’s just about the perfect spring morning as the day begins, I wish that I didn’t have to work tonight. I’d spend the day in the park just as I did on Saturday, wearing myself to a frazzle lugging all my camera gear as I walked in circles.

The weather is forecast to remain good right through Saturday afternoon, but then rain moves in for Sunday. I have been thinking of going to the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, but that’s too far to go for one day, since it’s a five-hour drive across the state to get there. Besides, there haven’t been reports of very many species of birds that I couldn’t find much closer to home.

So, I’ll have to decide on where to go around here. I could easily repeat what I did on Sunday. I got one lifer, the red-necked grebes, and got much better photos of over a half a dozen other species of birds than I already had. Or, I could go looking for early spring flowers at one of the parks even closer to home, but I think that it’s about a week early for that. Maybe I’ll do a birding extravaganza again on Saturday, then look for wildflowers in the rain on Sunday. We’ll see, once the weather forecast is more certain.

For right now, there are crocuses blooming in the park, and birds singing outside my apartment window, so it’s time to get moving!

I’m back. I think that I may have to wimp out and drive down to the park one day this week, rather than try to lug everything with me. I had the wildlife body with the Beast, the second body with the macro lens, and my tripod, but I really needed something to diffuse the harsh sunlight and/or add fill in light for most of the flower photos that I shot today.

It wouldn’t be quite as bad to carry all that stuff if the temperature didn’t start out chilly as I start my walk, then warm up a lot while I’m out there. I ended up shedding my jacket and a shirt, and had to add those items to the camera gear to carry. On the other hand, if I carried all my stuff every day, maybe my muscles would get used to it. ;)

Anyway, to start the day off, this robin came running up to me and demanded that I take its picture, so I did.

American robin

American robin

That’s full frame.

I have to wonder, if what the robin did today, or what the chickadee did yesterday, is the bird version of a selfie? Find a human with a camera, then pose so that they get their photo taken, since birds don’t have cell phones, yet. ;)

The rubber duckies are nesting!

Rubber ducky on the nest

Rubber ducky on the nest

I shouldn’t waste space like that, but I couldn’t help myself. ;)

The other birds were singing.

Male red-winged blackbird singing

Male red-winged blackbird singing

Male red-winged blackbird singing

Male red-winged blackbird singing

American goldfinch singing

American goldfinch singing

Song sparrow living up to its name

Song sparrow living up to its name

I got another excellent photo of a downy woodpecker.

Female downy woodpecker

Female downy woodpecker

I tried for a few shots of cedar waxwings in flight, but by that time, I had too much stuff hanging off me to put much effort into the photos, so here’s the best of a bad lot.

Cedar waxwing in flight

Cedar waxwing in flight

Actually, what I need is the 300 mm prime lens back, in good working order. Not only is it better suited for bird in flight photos, it weighs a lot less than the Beast, so carrying my other gear wouldn’t be so much of a burden. The defective lens has made it back to the retailer that I ordered if from, I hope that they get the replacement lens shipped out soon.

I shot this goose, as it was smaller than the average Canada goose, and its neck looked shorter as well, so I thought that it may be a cackling goose, but no, it’s just a small, short-necked Canada goose, but the look it gave me was great, so I have to throw the photo in here.

Canada goose

Canada goose

Okay, for the macro shots that I tried today, they’re not horrible, but I know that I can do better.

Crocus

Crocus

Crocus

Crocus

Crocus

Crocus

As soon as I started reviewing the photos, I knew that I should have brought the LED panel light with me to soften some of the shadows, I’ll try that tomorrow or Friday, depending on the weather. There may be rain tomorrow, so my next attempt may have to wait until Friday.

By the way, those were all shot with the Tokina 100 mm macro lens, as was this one.

Maple flowers

Maple flowers

That was the best subject that I could find close enough to the ground to reach with my tripod, none of the buds lower on the tree were open yet. I added the Tamron extender behind the macro lens, but it was still too short to really reach the flowers, so I cropped this one down.

Maple flowers

Maple flowers

I also used the extender for these lichens, even though I didn’t really need it.

Lichens

Lichens

Well, that’s it for today.

Thursday

Another beautiful spring morning! I could get used to weather like we’ve been having this past week! There may be a little rain this afternoon, but that’s okay, we could use some rain, and so could all the plants that are starting to green up and/or blossom.

It looks as if Sunday is going to be a washout, rain off and on most of the day, and mostly on if the forecast is to be believed. They are predicting an inch or more of rain from Saturday night to Sunday evening. Oh well, into each life a little rain must fall.

I have changed my mind about another lakeshore birding trip this weekend, I think that I’ll go to the Pickerel Lake Nature Preserve instead. That’s a good spot to find migrating songbirds, even migrating waterfowl, along with early season wildflowers. Besides, I just did the lakeshore thing last weekend. Good weather is here, it’s time to get out all over the place again!

More good news, the replacement 300 mm prime lens was shipped yesterday, I should have it in time for the weekend! That played a part in my changing my mind as to where to go. Pickerel Lake will be a good place to test the new lens out.

More than anything, I just want to get out in the woods and enjoy this spring! Spring has always been my favorite time of the year, and after the winter that we just went through, I’m enjoying this spring even more than usual! In fact, it’s time for me to get moving, get out there, and enjoy the heck out of today!

I’m back, and I sure did enjoy my time outside today, I hated to come home. But, there are things that I have to attend to so that I’ll have more time this weekend, and also to start preparing for my vacation, which starts in 30 days.

With a layer of high clouds diffusing the sunlight, today would have been a good day to re-shoot the crocus with the macro lens, but the strong wind today would have left me frustrated. It’s been so dry, and the wind was so strong, that it was blowing up dust devils, there’s always tomorrow for the macros.

Okay, for my photos, the goldfinches are getting their summer plumage.

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

And, I saw a small patch of crocus in the woods, this was shot with the Beast, just because this photo says spring to me.

Crocus and green leaves equals spring!

Crocus and green leaves equals spring!

A Cooper’s hawk circled me a couple of times, for the first photo, I turned the OS off but used my normal exposure settings.

Cooper's hawk in flight

Cooper’s hawk in flight

While it circled away from me, I changed to my saved bird in flight exposure settings for this one.

Cooper's hawk in flight

Cooper’s hawk in flight

This red-winged blackbird didn’t seem to mind the hawk overhead.

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

In the wooded part of the park, I spotted my first hermit thrush of the year. In a rare occurrence, the Beast failed to get a focus lock on the bird, so I had to focus manually, and I missed too.

Hermit thrush

Hermit thrush

I suppose that I can’t blame the Beast for missing the focus, as when I saw the photo as shot, I had a hard time making out the thrush because it blended in so well with the background, and there were weeds in the foreground.

I had much better luck with the male yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Male yellow-bellied sapsucker

Male yellow-bellied sapsucker

Male yellow-bellied sapsucker

Male yellow-bellied sapsucker

Patience paid off when shooting the sapsucker, the first 20 or so photos of him today weren’t very good due to the lighting, but I hung in there until he worked his way to where he was in good light, and I had a fairly clear view of him.

Here’s the backside of a blue jay.

Blue jay

Blue jay

I’d rather get side or front views of most birds, but with the jays, you don’t get to see their beautiful plumage in those angles, you almost have to photograph them from the rear.

Then, there are the birds that you’re lucky to even capture in the viewfinder!

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

If only! If only the kinglet hadn’t turned its head as the shutter went, and if only the twig in the foreground hadn’t been there!

Friday

Just a few quick words this morning, it’s absolutely beautiful outside today, but I’m going to try to do my walk fairly quickly. The replacement 300 mm prime lens is due to be delivered today, and I’d like to be back before it arrives. The UPS truck usually goes through here just after noon, so I have to get a move on.

Well, I’m back, no new lens yet, but I’m sure that it will arrive soon.

It is such a beautiful day out there that I’m thinking about going back out to try a few more macro photos. I’m finding macro photography to be even trickier than I thought that it would be, but I’ll get to that later.

I’ve practiced on birds enough that I think that I’m getting fairly good at photographing them, and right now, I’m a bit obsessed with getting images of the birds while they are singing.

Male red-winged blackbird singing

Male red-winged blackbird singing

Male red-winged blackbird singing

Male red-winged blackbird singing

Male red-winged blackbird singing

Male red-winged blackbird singing

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

American robin singing

American robin singing

I watched two female cardinals in a territorial dispute as a male looked on, but the photos are junk, since the battle took place well back in the brush.

Female northern cardinals fighting

Female northern cardinals fighting

And, the winner was…

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

…I suppose the real winner was the male, but he didn’t want his photo taken.

Male northern cardinal taking flight

Male northern cardinal taking flight

It must be nice to have two females fighting over you! ;)

The huge flock of cedar waxwings is still around, but I didn’t spend much time trying for photos of them, just this one.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

It wold have been quite easy for me to get a shot of one of the waxwings out in the open, but I liked the lighting of that photo.

I know that I posted too many chickadee photos earlier, but when one poses, how can I resist?

IMG_1173

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

And finally, for wildlife that is, the reason for our long cold winter, this guy saw his shadow.

Woodchuck or groundhog

Woodchuck or groundhog

Okay, when I got back from my walk, I didn’t really want to come inside, and I also noticed some tiny flowers just outside the door to the building. So, I set the beast inside, grabbed my tripod and macro set-up, and tried a few photos.

Macro testing

Macro testing

Macro testing

Macro testing

Macro testing

Macro testing

Macro testing

Macro testing

Okay, all those were shot with the Tokina 100 mm macro lens with the Tamron 1.4 extender behind it because the white flowers were so tiny. The entire flower clusters were less than an inch across, and I had trouble seeing the individual flowers if I wasn’t looking through the camera viewfinder. I’m not used to composing photos of such small subjects, at least not without cropping to get what I want. I need more practice doing the composition knowing that I won’t be cropping, which none of these were.

Also, I’m finding that lighting is extremely tricky on very small subjects, what appear to be slight shadows turn out to be drastic ones in the images the camera captures.

Well, I could go on and on about what I need to learn, but it will come with practice, I’m sure. What it boils down to is that I need to be more precise in both composition and lighting.

I’d go out and get some more practice, but I have the camera batteries charging up for what I hope will be a great day tomorrow at Pickerel Lake!

I think that I’ll end this one now, as It is already quite long, and despite my trying to limit the number of photos, I’ve ended up with too many yet again.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Muskegon, The eagles were golden, even if the weather wasn’t

Another trip to Muskegon, more photos of a species that I needed photos of. I just wish that the weather had been as nice as what had been forecast.

Instead of partly sunny, it was cloudy and cold, with fog in the morning, and haze in the afternoon. The weather made bird photos more difficult, but it also provided some opportunities for some scenic shots, which I’ll get to shortly.

But first, the trophy photo of the day, a golden eagle.

Golden eagle in flight

Golden eagle in flight

That was one of the last photos of the eagle that I shot, here’s two of it perched.

Golden eagle

Golden eagle

Golden eagle

Golden eagle

Now, back to the beginning. On the way to Muskegon, I stopped several times to take photos of the snow stuck to the trees, looking very festive for the holiday.

Snow scenes

Snow scenes

Snow scenes

Snow scenes

Snow scenes

Snow scenes

Snow scenes

Snow scenes

Arriving at the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility, I was greeted by first one….

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

…then a second….

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

….Bald eagle in flight. Some sun sure would have helped those!

The deer were out feeding.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

There were plenty of mourning doves to be seen.

Mourning doves

Mourning doves

The crows were busy harassing eagles.

Crow harassing a juvenile bald eagle

Crow harassing a juvenile bald eagle

Crow harassing a juvenile bald eagle

Crow harassing a juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Crow harassing a golden eagle

Crow harassing a golden eagle

There were bald eagles on the ice fighting over a kill.

Juvenile bald eagles

Juvenile bald eagles

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagles

Bald eagles

Bald eagles

Bald eagles

Bald eagles

Bald eagles

Bald eagles

Bald eagles

Most of the ducks were either gone because the lagoons had frozen over already, or they were laying low because of the number of eagles around, but I did catch this female blue winged teal.

Female blue winged teal in flight

Female blue winged teal in flight

The Canada geese must think that there’s safety in numbers.

Thousands of Canada geese

Thousands of Canada geese

The noise from all those geese was deafening at times, especially when an eagle came close to them!

The snow wasn’t melting very fast.

Snow scene

Snow scene

That didn’t bother this hawk…

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

or these turkeys.

Turkeys

Turkeys

Even though I knew it would still be cloudy there, I decided to stop off at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve to see what I could find there.

Snow covered berries

Snow covered berries

Dark eyed junco

Dark eyed junco

Cottontail rabbit

Cottontail rabbit

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

Mute swan in flight

Mute swan in flight

Ring billed gulls

Ring billed gulls

Female house finch

Female house finch

Female house finch

Female house finch

Female house finch

Female house finch

Tundra swans in flight

Tundra swans in flight

Tundra swans in flight

Tundra swans in flight

Hearing the flock of tundra swans was even more memorable than seeing them! Here’s a link to All About Birds where you can listen to the tundra swans if you like. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Tundra_Swan/sounds

I decided to make one more stop, the channel from Muskegon State Park, stopping to shoot yet another bald eagle on the way.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Arriving at the channel, I discovered what Santa does on his days off, he goes fishing.

Santa Claus on holiday

Santa Claus on holiday

There were a few birds around as well.

American crow

American crow

White winged scoter

White winged scoter

White winged scoters

White winged scoters

Male red breasted merganser

Male red breasted merganser

Female red breasted merganser in flight

Female red breasted merganser in flight

Female red breasted merganser in flight

Female red breasted merganser in flight

Female red breasted merganser in flight

Female red breasted merganser in flight

Male red breasted merganser

Male red breasted merganser

Sunshine, almost

Sunshine, almost

Muskegon Coast Guard Station

Muskegon Coast Guard Station

With that, I decided to call it a day and head back home to sort photos. I wish that the weather would have been better, but any day with multiple eagles is a good one!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Another Muskegon trip, another lifer

On Sunday, November 3, 2013, I made my monthly birding trip to the Muskegon area, and once again I was amply rewarded with great birding.

I had planned on starting out by hiking P. J. Hoffmaster State Park early in the morning, then hitting some other birding spots in the afternoon. However, Hoffmaster is right on Lake Michigan, and from checking the weather from home, I could see that lake effect clouds were over Hoffmaster, so I decided to change my plans. The clouds alone wouldn’t have been enough to change, but I also just received two pairs of hiking boots to break in, and I also hadn’t been feeling 100% the past few days. So I opted to begin at the county wastewater treatment facility, and go from there. But, things were so good there, that I never left until late afternoon.

In fact, it was so good that I have decided to do two posts on the day, because I spent some time photographing a pair of peregrine falcons hunting together, and I think that they deserve their own post.

OK, where should I start, at the beginning would make sense, but my first shot of the day was of a flock of mallards that I have cropped so that the photo won’t work in the slide show at the top of the page. So instead, I’ll post this photo out of order, then go back to the beginning. ;)

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding

Red-necked phalarope, non-breeding

That seemed to be the star of the show on Sunday, with almost all of the many birders whom I spoke with asking me if I had seen it.

It’s an insight into how good the Muskegon area is for birding, with thousands of birds, including some rather rare species, most people were complaining that they weren’t seeing anything out of the ordinary on that day. This post will end up being quite long because of the number of species of birds that I did get photos of, and I only managed a fraction of the species there, but it was still considered an off day of sorts to many of the birders.

OK, back to the start. I planned on checking what are known as the grassy cells to look for the Wilson’s snipe that had been seen earlier in the week. I never did find it, but I hadn’t even made it to where I planned to park and start wandering around on foot before I started shooting photos.

Mallards in the morning

Mallards in the morning

They may be only mallards, but the numbers of them feeding in one of the cells that had a large puddle in it was impressive.

There were two red-tailed hawks perched in the trees on the west edge of the grassy cells, I guess hunting wasn’t good there, for first one…

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

…then the other flew off to better hunting grounds.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

With thousands of Canada geese all around me, I had to take a few photos of them in flight for practice.

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

I spotted this small bird which I haven’t been able to ID yet.

Unidentified bird

Unidentified bird

There were flocks of horned larks in abundance.

Horned lark

Horned lark

I didn’t find the snipe, so I decided to try another spot, and as I was driving past one of the man-made lakes, I shot this photo of a few of the northern shovelers who have arrived for the winter. They form groups on the water and work together to agitate the water to stir up food for themselves.

Northern shovelers

Northern shovelers

Later in the day I shot this photo of a male, I may as well throw it in at this point.

Male Northern shoveler

Male Northern shoveler

I went past the man-made lakes to a small area of mixed field and trees, and found the following, but no snipe.

Meadowlark

Meadowlark

I never got a look at the chest of the meadowlark to tell if it was an eastern or western meadowlark, since both are seen in the area, I’ll play it safe on the ID.

I found this doe, I think that it was one of this year’s fawns, as it had the forlorn look of a fawn that had just been driven off on its own by its mother. During the fall is when whitetail deer breed, and the females drive their young of the year away as mating season approaches. The poor little fawns are left on their own for the first time in their live’s, and they always have a sad, lost look about them. I have seen the mother deer driving their young away, and it is something heartbreaking to see, as the fawns can’t fathom why their mother has suddenly turned against them.

The good news is that once the breeding season is over, the fawns generally find their mothers again, and are allowed to rejoin them. Next fall, the mother of this one won’t have to drive it away, its hormones will take care of that as this one goes in search of a buck.

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

I think that this swan that flew over me while I was snipe hunting was a trumpeter, but I’m not 100% sure of that.

Juvenile Trumpeter swan in flight

Juvenile Trumpeter swan in flight

My snipe hut wasn’t going well, no snipe, so I headed to yet another spot, driving past the south end of the man-made lakes, pausing to shoot photos of a flock of about 100 Bonaparte’s gulls cavorting near the edge of one of the lakes.

Bonaparte's gulls

Bonaparte’s gulls

Bonaparte's gulls

Bonaparte’s gulls

Bonaparte's gull in flight

Bonaparte’s gull in flight

As I was approaching the east end of the grassy cells for another look around that area, I saw a flock of snow buntings in the distance.

Snow buntings in flight

Snow buntings in flight

When I went for a better photo of them is when I saw the peregrine falcons from my previous post.

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

And the rough-legged hawk.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

And a northern harrier.

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Still no snipe, but I did find a few greater yellowlegs hanging around yet.

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs

Greater yellowlegs in flight

Greater yellowlegs in flight

There were many small flocks of American pipits scattered all around the area.

American pipit

American pipit

Still no snipe, but I managed to stay busy taking photos.

Bonaparte's gull

Bonaparte’s gull

Bonaparte's gull

Bonaparte’s gull

Herring gull

Herring gull

Just a tree

Just a tree

Unidentified duck

Unidentified duck

Female ruddy duck

Female ruddy duck

Female bufflehead

Female bufflehead

American coot

American coot

Trumpeter swans

Trumpeter swans

So far for the day, I had mixed driving from spot to spot with short walks around each spot, I needed to stretch my legs out, so I headed to the north end of the facility to walk the woodlots there, and here’s a sampling of the birds I saw there.

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

Milkweed seed

Milkweed seed

Dark eyed junco

Dark eyed junco

Juvenile red headed woodpecker

Juvenile red-headed woodpecker

Juvenile red headed woodpecker

Juvenile red-headed woodpecker

The other birds I saw while hiking the woodlots were mostly the same species I see at home on a regular basis, so there’s no need for me to post more photos of them here.

All in all, I would say it was an excellent day of birding, even if I never found the snipe of spotted a merlin as I had intended to search for earlier in the week. I got another lifer, the rough-legged hawk, and more good photos of some of the species that I could use better photos of, and best of all, it was just a great day to be outdoors. What more can I say, I suppose that I could attempt to list all the species of birds that I saw, but I didn’t take notes, I was too busy shooting photos, and without notes, there’s no way I could remember everything that I saw. I would estimate that I saw close to 100 species of birds that I could ID in total, and hundreds or even thousands of some of the species there, like the Canada geese and some of the ducks.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Still another Muskegon birding trip, the raptors and more

On Sunday August 25th, I made yet another trip to Muskegon to do some birding. Most of the photos that I shot were of shorebirds, but I managed a few really crummy shots of some raptors, and other birds. I’m going to post them despite the fact that they aren’t the best that I have taken, as this blog still serves as a record for the things I see when out and about.

I am now firmly convinced that there is something in the air at the Muskegon Wastewater treatment facility that adversely affects photography. As long as I am upwind from the actual treatment part of the facility, my photos aren’t too bad, but I can still see some loss of sharpness. Downwind of the treatment area, my photos get really bad in a hurry, unless I get extremely close to the subject I am shooting. I’ve also gone other places after the wasterwater facility, and my photos from those places are sharp.

Anyway, now that I have made my excuses, here are the photos, starting with a northern harrier in flight.

Northern (Hen) Harrier in flight

Northern (Hen) Harrier in flight

Northern (Hen) Harrier in flight

Northern (Hen) Harrier in flight

Northern (Hen) Harrier in flight

Northern (Hen) Harrier in flight

Those would have come out a little better if I had the time to switch the optical stabilization of my lens off, which is true of most of the bird in flight photos that I’m posting here.

Next up, a couple of a great blue heron in flight.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

I saw a few juvenile bald eagles, but only managed a few shots of them.

Juvenile bald eagle landing

Juvenile bald eagle landing

Juvenile bald eagle landing

Juvenile bald eagle landing

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

There was a mixed flock of several species of shorebirds in one corner of one of the lagoons today. Every time that some one passed by, the flock would fly off, only to return a few minutes later. I watched that happen a few times, and it gave me an idea. The next time another birder drove past and spooked the shorebirds away, I sat down in the rocks along the bank, and waited for the flock to return. It didn’t take long for a few to return.

Shorebirds landing

Shorebirds landing

With small brown birds coming at me, I wasn’t paying as much attention to what was going on as I should have, for one of the small brown birds coming at me turned out to be one of the main reasons I decided to return to Muskegon today, a peregrine falcon.

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

The photos are terrible, but photographing the falcon was like trying to photograph a jet fighter doing a fly by, but at 75 feet, those things are fast!

A passing crow thought that my pitiful attempts to shoot the falcon were funny.

Laughing crow

Laughing crow

Laughing crow

Laughing crow

Later in the day, I spotted a flock of turkey vultures on the ground, and these photos are the ones that convinced me that being downwind to the treatment area really does mess up photography. I was right on top of these, the shots should have been as sharp as a tack! But, they aren’t.

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

I found a pair of common ravens perched in a tree, these photos came out slightly better.

Common raven

Common raven

Common raven

Common raven

One look at their beak will tell you that they aren’t crows!

Here’s another crow for comparison.

American crow

American crow

I don’t think that I’m going to bother with a post of the photos of shorebirds from today. They are the same species as last week, except for this short-billed dowitcher.

Short-billed dowitcher

Short-billed dowitcher

Short-billed dowitcher

Short-billed dowitcher

Short-billed dowitcher

Short-billed dowitcher

I have about 150 photos of the shorebirds from today, most of them better than the photos from last week. Hiding out in the rocks paid off nicely. But, being shorebirds, they all look the same, and the same as last week’s post. So that’s all folks.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Blandford Nature Center

Located on the western outskirts of Grand Rapids, Michigan, the Blandford Nature Center is an island of natural in a sea of suburban sprawl. They pack a lot into 143 acres of land, almost four miles of hiking trails, an animal rescue hospital, a working farm, and a historic village, to name of few of the things to see there. The main purpose of the Blandford Nature Center is education, and they hold many events targeted for children throughout the year. That’s not surprising, since the center is operated by the Grand Rapids public school system.

There’s far too much about the center for me to list here, so here’s a link to their website.

The trails are open dawn to dusk throughout the year, the admission fee is $3 for non-members, free to members. The hours for the other parts of the center are Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm, and Saturday from 12 to 5pm, although not everything may be open at all times.

My day there was rather bittersweet. The trails through the woods are great, there’s abundant wildlife, but the animal rescue operation left me broken-hearted. To see the birds of prey and Bob the bobcat in their cages, with no real life, made me ponder the wisdom of keeping the animals alive.

I got there well before the staff arrived to open the buildings, which was my plan, since the trails are open all day. I had just a short walk through the woods before I came to the area where the injured animals are kept. The woods were quite pleasant.

Blandford Nature Center

Blandford Nature Center

Blandford Nature Center

Blandford Nature Center

Then, I met Sheldon.

Sheldon, the Cooper's hawk hawk

Sheldon, the Cooper’s hawk hawk

Sheldon was hit by a car in Lowell and brought in to Blandford Nature Center in 2002. He suffered severe damage to his right wing, which had to be amputated. He is also missing some talons and would not be able to hunt for food or escape predators in the wild, so he has become a permanent resident at Blandford.

Then, there was Ruby. I shot photos of her, but I’m not going to post them. Ruby can fly, but every time she does, she ends up crashing because she has no depth perception because she is blind in one eye.

She was hit by a car in Grand Rapids, which left her blind in her left eye.  Birds of prey need both eyes to have the necessary depth perception to hunt effectively.  Ruby would slowly starve to death if left to fend for herself in the wild.

Stan

Stan, the great horned owl

Stan, the great horned owl

Stan was found at the Grattan Racetrack in 1988 with a broken wing.  His wing fused in an awkward position during healing leaving him unable to fly to catch food and defend himself from predators in the wild.

Katherine the Great

Katherine the Great

Katherine the Great

Katherine the Great

Katherine the Great

Katherine was found on the Nature Center’s east loop trail in 1991 suffering from a fractured left wing.  The wing did not heal properly, leaving her unable to catch prey or escape predators. Great Horned Owls mate for life, and every once in a while Katherine’s mate from the wild will visit and bring her gifts in the form of small rodents.

Reading the stories of how the birds came to be at the center, and seeing them not being able to live a birds life made me very sad indeed.

But, saddest of all was watching Bob.

Bob, the bobcat

Bob, the bobcat

Bob, the bobcat

Bob, the bobcat

Bob, the bobcat

Bob, the bobcat

Bob, the bobcat

Bob, the bobcat

Poor Bob did little more than pace his cage in a figure 8 pattern, pausing now and then to stare off into space with a vacant look in his eyes.

Bob was born in 2002 and purchased as an illegal pet whose owners had him neutered and de-clawed.  He was put out in their backyard and neighbors eventually complained.  He was relinquished from the family and taken to the Chattanooga Zoo in Tennessee. The zoo was looking to transfer him to an educational facility where he would have his own cage, and so he came to Blandford in 2006.  Since he is de-clawed and depends on  humans to feed him, Bob would not be able to survive in the wild.

Unfortunately, there were far too many others there as well, including a pair of kestrels, a merlin, and several other species of owls. I dutifully shot photos of all of them, but none of the rest turned out, probably because my heart just wasn’t into it. I couldn’t stop thinking that these magnificent birds of prey were destined to live out the rest of their life in a cage perched on a branch.

The rest of the day went much better once I got back on the trails.

Butterfly

Butterfly

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

I saw many birds other than the caged rescue birds, but only managed shots of two, here’s the first.

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Gray-head coneflower

Gray-head coneflower

???

Wild leeks

???

Wild leeks

Dianthus??

Dianthus??

I found a hummingbird (Sphinx) moth feeding from some bee balm, and couldn’t resist shooting a lot of photos of it.

Hummingbird moth

Hummingbird moth

Hummingbird moth

Hummingbird moth

Hummingbird moth

Hummingbird moth

Hummingbird moth

Hummingbird moth

Hummingbird moth

Hummingbird moth

It had just flown away, when I looked up to find myself eye to eye with a real hummingbird, but it flew off when I spotted it. I tried stepping back into the brush and waiting for the hummer to return, but it never did.

???

Heal all

Female common grackle

Female common grackle

Female common grackle

Female common grackle

Groundhog or woodchuck

Groundhog or woodchuck

???

???

Red dragonfly

Red dragonfly

Purple coneflower

Purple coneflower

I had every intention of photographing the farm and the historic buildings, maybe next time. Most of the historic buildings are located on the edge of the woods with trees covering most of the buildings, so I think that I’ll wait until the leaves are off from the trees so that you can see the buildings.

I will be going back, it’s close to home, the woods and trails are very good, and there’s enough there to keep me occupied for the greater portion of a day. So, there’s no reason to overload this post. They are working to add more native wildflowers to the woods and fields, and I’ll bet that the place is great for spring birding, from all the birds I saw today. The only reason there aren’t more bird photos is because like everywhere else in Michigan this year, the leaves on all the plants are too thick to get good clear shots of birds.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Another trip to Muskegon, more birds, blooms, and bugs

On Sunday, July 7th, I went to Muskegon again, to do some birding, and to escape the heat here in Grand Rapids.

Since it was hot and muggy, I got an early start, for me. I had a plan, go to Lane’s Landing to hike first, then hit the county wastewater treatment facility, then finish off the day at Lost Lake in Muskegon State Park.

My reasoning was this, Lane’s Landing is about a mile north of the wastewater treatment facility, and both are about ten miles from Lake Michigan. So, they don’t get as much cooling from the big lake as I was hoping to get. By starting fairly early in the morning, I’d get Lane’s Landing out of the way before the heat got too bad, then cool off in the AC of my car as I drove around the wastewater treatment facility, and spend the heat of the day at Lost Lake, where it is much cooler.

I think that I have mentioned Lane’s Landing before, it’s in the Muskegon State Game Area, just to the north of the wastewater treatment facility, and along the Muskegon River. There used to be access to the river, but the DNR has the road to it closed now, why I don’t know. It’s one of the birding hot spots in the Muskegon area.

So, I arrived at Lane’s Landing, and as I was showering in insect repellent, I could hear a multitude of birds singing. Walking across the parking lot, I noticed a patch of red in one of the willows…

What's that red thing?

What’s that red thing?

…it was a swamp sparrow…

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

…a new to me species which will be added to the My Photo Life List project.

There were dozens of these species…

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

…and I caught a “wild” hummingbird..

Ruby throated hummingbird

Ruby throated hummingbird

Ruby throated hummingbird

Ruby throated hummingbird

…you can see that the same milky white sky that has plagued me for the last two weeks was present again this day. I went up 1/3 on the exposure for the hummingbird, it wasn’t enough.

I just walked along, shooting what caught my eye as I went.

TBD

A coreopsis?

Unidentified flycatching object

Unidentified flycatching object

Unidentified fledgling object

Unidentified fledgling object

Oriental lilies

Michigan lily

Green heron

Green heron

I made it to the Muskegon River…

Muskegon River at Lane's Landing

Muskegon River at Lane’s Landing

…but all the trails were so overgrown that I didn’t feel like busting my way through all the growth. I don’t know if that’s normal in the summer, for it’s the first time I made it to the river. The other times I was there this year, I didn’t make it that far, as the dike that serves as the trail had washed out during the April flood. Maybe very few people have been going there due to the dike being washed out.

Besides, I was already drenched in sweat, and I was looking for cool, so I turned around, and walked back to my vehicle, shooting as I went.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Wood duck in flight

Wood duck in flight

Willow flycacher

Willow flycatcher

Yellow warbler

Yellow warbler

TBD

TBD

TBD

Moth mullein

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Eastern Wood Pewee

Eastern Wood Pewee

IMG_7626

Blue/black racer

Here’s a couple of shots of the area near the parking lot.

Lane's Landing

Lane’s Landing

The two-track in that photo runs along the top of a dike used to control the water levels in the marshes on either side. The willows are on the edges of the marshes, and that’s where I found many of the birds. Once you near the river, the marshes turn into swamps, and there were many birds there, but in the tops of trees and out of range of even the Sigma lens. Here’s a photo looking across the marsh towards the river.

Lane's Landing

Lane’s Landing

A breeze was beginning to come up, making it feel cooler, and the road to the parking lot was shaded, so I walked down the road a piece…

Oriental lily

Michigan lily

Butterfly

Butterfly

Grey catbird dodging my lens

Grey catbird dodging my lens

The shot of the catbird was not cropped at all, I was that close to it. If my shutter finger had been slightly faster, I would have had my best shot ever of one.

I haven’t seen many butterflies this summer, and on my way over there this morning, I heard a news report that no one is seeing butterflies, and scientists are going to begin a study to find out why. I would assume that it is because of the hot dry summer we had last year, but I could be wrong.

I saw any more birds than I have posted photos of, but I think that you can see why Lane’s Landing is considered to be one of the great birding spots in West Michigan.

Time to head to the wastewater treatment facility for other species of birds.

Horned lark

Horned lark

Horned lark doing the injured wing routine

Horned lark doing the injured wing routine

This next one looks like a meadowlark, but it’s not, it’s a Dickcissel. It’s in the same family as cardinals. Meadowlarks are larger, and have a long thin beak. Dickcissels are slightly larger than a sparrow, and have short, stout beaks. I had read that people were seeing them at the wastewater treatment facility, one of the reasons for my stop there.

Dickcissel

Dickcissel

Dickcissel

Dickcissel

Dickcissel

Dickcissel

The dickcissel is another new to me species which will be added to the My Photo Life List project.

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Adult red-tailed hawk

Adult red-tailed hawk

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

The wastewater treatment facility almost looks good in that shot. ;)

Upland sandpiper

Upland sandpiper

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Turkey buzzard

Turkey vulture

Turkey buzzard

Turkey vultures

I got the dickcissel, which is what I went there for, and from the way that the vultures were eyeing me, I thought it best to leave, and head for the refreshing breezes at Lost Lake.

I parked in the Snug Harbor parking lot of Muskegon State Park, and hiked back to Lost Lake. That’s where I spent the afternoon, enjoying the cool breezes off from Lake Michigan as I wandered around Lost Lake, photographing anything that caught my eye.

Grey squirrel, grey morph

Grey squirrel, grey morph

There were a bunch of these yellow flowers growing right on the edge of the water. I have no idea what they are, they looked like yellow popcorn, each one slightly different in shape, as you will see. But, I had a few others to shoot first.

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Cranberry

Particularly, the Pogonia orchids that I found in better lighting, and more open than on my last visit.

Rose Pogonia orchid

Rose Pogonia orchid

Rose Pogonia orchid

Rose Pogonia orchid

Pogonia orchid

Rose Pogonia orchid

Pogonia orchid

Rose Pogonia orchid

Pogonia orchid

Rose Pogonia orchid

Anything that red deserves to be photographed

Anything that red deserves to be photographed

Back to the yellow flowers…

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???

Every one of them looks different, and I couldn’t see any of the normal parts of a flower that I would expect to see, so I went looking for other flowers to shoot.

Atlantic blue-eyed grass

Atlantic blue-eyed grass

???

???

???

Cranberry

Dragonfly and ???

Dragonfly and ???

???

Club Spur Orchid (Platanthera clavellata)

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Most of the Lost Lake photos were shot with my 15-85 mm lens, I love that lens! The last dragonfly was shot with my 70-200 L series lens, you may want to click on that photo to see what that lens can do. It requires a bit more work than the shorter lens, but when I get it right, it’s really right!

I’m sorry for so many photos in this one, but turn me loose in the woods of Michigan for a day, and there’s no telling what I’ll photograph, or how many photos I’ll come back with.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Memorial Day weekend, Sunday morning

You know that you had a great weekend when not only does each day deserve a post of its own, but I have to split the day in half to prevent the posts from becoming way too long!

I should say a little more about the location and the area I was at. The Ossineke State Forest Campground is on the southern shore of Thunder Bay, one of many bays of Lake Huron. Alpena, Michigan is located on the west end of the bay. Here’s a link to more information on everything there is to see and do in the area.

http://www.us23heritageroute.org/alpena.asp?ait=cv&cid=4

The bay was, and maybe still is, used by ships to escape storms when they rage on Lake Huron. Many a ship met its demise trying to make the safety of Thunder Bay, the entrance to the bay is littered with shipwrecks, some in quite shallow water, some, hundreds of feet down in Lake Huron proper. The shipwrecks are now protected in the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and the area has become a destination for scuba divers. In addition, there is a specially built tour boat that is based in Alpena that takes people on a tour of some of the more visible wrecks.

I didn’t inquire about the cost of the tour, as I had too much on my plate for the weekend already, but someday, I would like to take the tour. A quick check of their website tells me that the tours are $30, not bad, I will have to take the tour one of these days.

Anyway, there are several smaller bays within Thunder Bay, one is called Misery Bay, so named because of the number of ships that wrecked while trying to seek shelter from storms, and the sailors who lost their live’s as a result of the wrecks. The other is named Isaacson’s Bay, which was my first stop of the day after shooting warblers in the campground first thing in the morning, which I will get to shortly.

Isaacson’s Bay is one of several known for the number of shorebirds it attracts, and is located on the northern shore of Thunder Bay. It is just to the right of the La Farge Quarry and cement plant that can be seen in this photo.

The cement plant across Thunder Bay

The cement plant across Thunder Bay

In fact, the road to Isaacson’s Bay takes you through the cement plant. More on that later.

I had slept like a rock despite turning in so early, and I found an added benefit to having lost so much weight. The memory foam pad that I have to sleep on while camping supports my new lighter weight much better than it did before.

I woke up before sunrise, I have proof!

Sunrise over Lake Huron

Sunrise over Lake Huron

I was already drinking coffee by then, just waiting for the sun to show up, and take some of the chill off from the morning, it did. It also brought a steady parade of birds through the campground, so I stood there drinking my coffee and shooting warblers as they posed for me.

Black-throated green warbler

Black-throated green warbler

Red-eyed vireo

Red-eyed vireo

Pine warbler

Pine warbler

Wilson's warbler

Wilson’s warbler

OK, so the red-eyed vireo isn’t technically a warbler, and you can’t really see how it got its name from that photo, I’ll remedy that in a later post. ;)

By the time I had finished my three cups of coffee and a breakfast that consisted of a couple of blueberry turnovers, other people began moving around in the campground, and the birds departed for quieter surroundings. I did the same, heading to Isaacson’s Bay. On the way there, I spotted a tern, which I would have loved to have photographed, but there was some jerk right on my tail, and I didn’t want to be involved in a wreck over a bird by braking suddenly to pull over.

The only other time I have been to Isaacson’s Bay was several years ago, when the Great Lakes water levels were much higher. With the lower water levels, I wasn’t prepared for what I found, as far as footwear.

Mudflats at Isaacson's Bay

Mudflats at Isaacson’s Bay

Most of what you see in that photo was covered by water before, and I could have easily walked the edges looking for shorebirds. I learned a lesson from this guy, who I chatted with for a while as he searched for the shorebirds the correct way.

Looking for shorebirds at Isaacson's Bay

Looking for shorebirds at Isaacson’s Bay

He had knee-high boots and a high-powered spotting scope so that he could really see all the birds there. He spotted about a dozen species on this day, I got three. Most of the birds were well out of range of even the Sigma lens, and my boots weren’t high enough for me to wade the standing water to get closer to them.

He and I chatted for some time, and he was kind enough to give me a number of tips on where to find birds, directions to those places, and the best times to go looking. Here’s my three species of shorebirds for the day.

Killdeer

Killdeer

Semipalmated plover

Semipalmated plover

Semipalmated sandpiper

Semipalmated sandpiper

Semipalmated plover

Semipalmated plover

Shorebirds sure do look similar to each other! The killdeer are easy, they’re always calling out. The sandpipers and plovers almost fooled me on two counts. The semipalmated plovers look so much like the killdeer, that I wasn’t completely sure that they weren’t killdeer, but their soft calls and orange beaks told me to shoot them. The sandpipers and plovers were in a mixed flock of a few of each, I assumed that they were males and females of the same species, until I got home and looked closely at them, then I discovered that there were two distinct species.

The trip may not have yielded as many shorebirds as I should have gotten, but it wasn’t a total waste. While walking the parts of the mudflats that I could, and along the road and marsh on the other side of the road, I came up with these shots.

Blue wildflower

Blue wildflower

Great egret

Great egret

Sandhill crane checking me out

Sandhill crane checking me out

Sandhill crane doing a flyby for me

Sandhill crane doing a flyby for me

Sandhill crane doing a flyby for me

Sandhill crane doing a flyby for me

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

Male northern harrier

Male northern harrier

Male northern harrier

Male northern harrier

Common grackle

Common grackle

IMG_4210

Strange red? wildflowers

Strange red? wildflowers

I chased many other species of birds, but never got photos of them. This little excursion did lay the ground work for some decisions that I made later in the day. I had walked the mudflats to the extent that I could, but I was seeing many species of songbirds right along the strip of higher ground right along the road, between the marsh to the north side, and the mudflats on the south side. I also flushed a flock of shorebirds that had been feeding in the marsh on the north side of the road as well.

Had I brought my knee-high boots, or even better, my waders, I would have spent more time there looking for shorebirds, maybe too much time. I had two lighthouses to photograph, and Thompson’s Harbor State Park to hit yet this day.

After photographing the new Presque Isle Lighthouse, I started walking one of the nature trails in the park that the light is in, but I wasn’t seeing anything other than insects. Not mosquitoes, but swarms of bugs so thick that they were really bothersome, especially since they were getting in my eyes, ears, nose, and if I had been silly enough to open my mouth, I would have gotten a snack of the unwanted kind. So, I cut my walk short, and headed over to Thompson’s Harbor, and spent most of the rest of the day there. That’s where I will pick up the next post.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Blood, sweat, and birds

On Sunday, May 19th, I made another birding trip to the Muskegon area. The weather was hot, humid, and hazy, exactly what you would expect in the middle of July. Hard to believe that exactly one week ago, I delayed my hike for a short time as I waited for a sleet squall to pass. The high temperature today was 86 degrees (30 C), that’s why I put sweat in the title of this post.

The blood, well, that’s the blood that I donated to the droves of thirsty mosquitoes that have hatched after the record flooding last month. I thought that I was prepared, I bought a bottle of something that was labeled insect repellent while grocery shopping last night. I didn’t have my glasses with me, there must not be any DEET in the stuff that I bought, as it didn’t repel insects, I think that it helped to attract them.

I started at the Muskegon County wastewater plant, hoping to find some wading birds. I wasn’t disappointed.

Ruddy turnstone

Ruddy turnstone

Dunlin and an unidentified wading object

Dunlin and an unidentified wading object

Dunlins

Dunlins

Dunlin

Dunlin

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

I’ll tell you, identifying sandpipers is harder than warblers!

There were several smaller wading birds around as well, but because of the amount and nature of the trash in every one of the photos I took of them, I deleted them all.

As far as other birds, most of them you’ve seen before, so I’ll just throw in a few of them from today.

Baltimore oriole

Baltimore oriole

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Mother and daughter chat

Mother and daughter chat

Lesser scaup

Lesser scaup

American Coot

American Coot

American Coot

American Coot

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

Ruddy duck

Ruddy duck

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

IMG_3682

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

Besides the birds, I also found time to photograph lilacs and lupine.

Lilac

Lilac

Lupine

Lupine

Lupine

Lupine

I realized about then that I had done things backwards, I should have gone hiking first, and hit the wastewater facility on my way home. I wasn’t looking forward to hiking in the heat of the day, I had been hoping for a lake breeze from Lake Michigan to cool things down, but it hadn’t come up when I started my hike. I soldiered on though, hiking back to Lost Lake, through the swarms of mosquitoes waiting for me in the hemlock swamp that the trail passes through.

I went to Lost Lake hoping for wildflowers, but the only one that I found was this one lone gaywing.

Gaywing

Gaywing

It’s a week or two too early for any of the other flowers that grow there, I found the plants and even a few buds, but no flowers.

I sat down on a bench overlooking the lake, and watched a pair of goldfinches having a spat over nesting material for some reason.

American goldfinches

American goldfinches

They were in the trees on the island in Lost Lake as was this guy.

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

The bench I was sitting on was exposed to the sun, so it was like an oven there, but at least I wasn’t losing any more blood. The heat was too much though, so I headed off through the woods to the other end of the lake to the observation deck that the DNR built overlooking the lake.

Lost Lake from the observation deck

Lost Lake from the observation deck

I sat there for some time, eventually the lake breeze did come up to cool things down even more. As soon as that happened, the place exploded with birds, small…

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

…and large.

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

There were also redstarts and several other warbler size birds that I never did get a good shot of. Here’s another shot (barely) of one of the gnatcatchers as it ran up a branch trying to escape my camera.

Blue-grey gnatcatcher on the run

Blue-grey gnatcatcher on the run

It was very pleasant there on the deck in the woods, so I sat there even longer, watching and listening to the birds.

I did want to check the eagle’s nest though, so I made my way back the way that I had come, then headed for the nest. I didn’t see the female on the nest, that wasn’t surprising, their nest is very large now. I found a convenient log in the shade to sit on, and waited to see if she would move, or if her mate would appear, but I started losing too much blood again to suit me. I’ll have many opportunities to photograph eagles again, so I didn’t see much point in waiting around any longer. I was tired, hungry, and out of water, so it seemed a good time to head for home.

Oh, I almost forgot, on my way back from Lost Lake, I spotted this young red-tailed hawk that obliged me by posing for a few photos.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Testing the Canon 70-200 mm f/4 L series lens

” I’m missing the purple branches already.”

After I posted the photos that I’ve taken with my new Canon 60D and the Sigma lens on Facebook, that’s one of the comments that my brother left on one of the photos that I took of a bird through the branches it was hiding in.

My old Nikon 70-300 mm lens had so much chromatic aberration that it often shifted the colors to the point that branches in the foreground looked purple, and ones in the background were rendered as green. The chromatic aberration was visible in photos of other subjects as well, but I seldom posted those.

In case you’ve never seen chromatic aberration, here’s a couple of examples taken with the Nikon body and lens.

Barred owl, purple branches in foreground

Barred owl, purple branches in foreground

Barred owl, green branches in background

Barred owl, green branches in background

So far, I have seen no chromatic aberration in any of the photos that I’ve taken with the Canon 60D and Sigma lens, which is what prompted my brother to post the comment that he did. And, I have shot a few photos with that combo already that come close to matching the adverse conditions on the day that I took the owl photos. Here’s an example.

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

What a difference! There is not a hint of any chromatic aberration in that photo, or any of the others that I have shot with the new combo.

It has rained everyday this week, and that’s the forecast for as far out as they are forecasting, periods of rain everyday. Because of the rain, I haven’t been carrying my new combo around while I go for my daily walk, the Sigma lens is too large for me to carry in inclement weather.

OK, so the title of this post is “Testing the Canon 70-200 mm f/4 lens”, the Sigma lens is one of several that I planned on purchasing, on Wednesday, I picked up number 2, the Canon 70-200 mm L series lens. The L series of lenses are weather sealed, not that I am going to trust that, but being much smaller than the Sigma, I can carry this new lens inside my rain-gear to protect it from the elements.

I didn’t have the time to do another complete walk after picking up the lens, but I did step out of my apartment and shoot a few, while there was a very light mist/rain falling. Horrible conditions for photography, but it’s those conditions that are the toughest test of photo equipment.

First up, wild turkeys.

Wild turkey in the rain

Wild turkeys in the rain

Wild turkeys in the rain

Wild turkeys in the rain

The second photo was cropped considerably, and the turkeys were running, making the shot more difficult as far as sharpness.

Next up, a crow attacking a red-tailed hawk perched in the top of an evergreen tree.

Crow attacking a red-tailed hawk

Crow attacking a red-tailed hawk

Crow attacking a red-tailed hawk

Crow attacking a red-tailed hawk

Crow attacking a red-tailed hawk

Crow attacking a red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk, uncropped

Red-tailed hawk, not cropped

Red-tailed hawk, cropped

Red-tailed hawk, cropped

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

I know, I do everything wrong! I’m supposed to wait for a sunny day with just a thin layer of clouds to produce near perfectly diffused lighting when testing lenses and cameras.

Since such days are very rare in west Michigan, and since I am an all-weather hiker and kayaker, it only makes sense to me to try out new equipment under the conditions that I expect to use it in. Any camera and lens can produce a good photo in ideal conditions, it’s weather like what is happening this week that is the true test.

Number one, the sensor and exposure control of the 60D continues to amaze me! The camera reads the focal length of the lens, and adjusts the exposure triad accordingly, and extremely well. I couldn’t be happier! With the Sigma lens on the camera, and zoomed to 500 mm, the camera keeps the shutter speeds high enough to prevent camera shake at that focal length. With the Canon 70-200 mm on the camera, it drops the shutter speeds down, along with the ISO, to produce better photos. I could not adjust those things myself quickly enough manually to capture shots like the crow attacking the hawk.

The dynamic range of the sensor in the 60D has to be vastly superior to the one in my old Nikon, the cloudy sky isn’t blown out like the Nikon used to do. Those may not be excellent photos, but shooting an all black crow against a cloudy sky, and being able to see the details of the crow in motion, again, I am extremely happy with the results!

I can also see that even under bad conditions that the 70-200 mm lens is even sharper than the Sigma 150-500 mm, as is to be expected. And, there is absolutely no chromatic aberration showing up in any of these photos either.

The auto-focus is extremely fast and accurate, and that’s helped by the way the 70-200 is built. It has two different auto-focus ranges, one is the full range that the lens is capable of, but you can set a switch to limit how closely the lens will auto-focus, which speeds it up at normal shooting distances. For extreme close-ups, flip the switch to full range, and the lens will focus down to 4 feet. In the shorter, faster range, the lens focuses from approximately 10 feet to infinity.

All you have to do is compare the shots of the owl, taken with my old Nikon, and the shots of the crow and hawk to see what a huge difference that there is between the two! Both series were taken on days with almost identical weather conditions, the owl photos are bad, really bad, the crow and hawk photos are very good considering the weather conditions. Oh, and I had the light right for the owl photos, although it doesn’t look like it. For the crow and hawk photos, I was shooting in the direction of the sun, not that it makes much difference under the thick clouds.

I can hardly wait to see what this new lens will be capable of in better conditions, but I am going to have to wait.

If Wednesday was a horrible day for photography, Thursday was even worse if you can believe it. Not only was it raining, but there was a gale blowing out of the northeast, dropping the temperature enough that there were a few snowflakes mixed in with the rain. There were few critters stirring, and the ones that I did see were all too far away for a photo. I couldn’t even shoot any plant photos, as everything was whipping about wildly in the wind. The one shot I did take was taken with my Powershot, of my new camera, the new lenses, and my old Nikon lens for reference.

Sigma, Nikon, and Canon lens

Sigma, Nikon, and Canon lens

It may not look very much smaller than the Sigma, but believe me, the Canon 70-200 mm is much easier to carry, and a whole lot lighter!

I did get some very good news on Wednesday. The bookkeeper at the company I work for met me at the door to explain that she had made a mistake last April, as far as what she has been paying me. She never entered the raise I received last year into the payroll software, so I had been shorted in my paycheck for an entire year. So, I had two paychecks yesterday, my normal check, plus a check to make up what I should have been paid after my last raise for an entire year, what a pleasant surprise! It’s not like winning the lottery, but every little bit helps, and this was a little bit. But, it will be enough for me to purchase the next lens on my list much sooner than I expected. That will be the Canon EF-S 15 to 85 mm lens for shooting landscapes, and close-ups.

Also, I think that I have a buyer for the Nikon 70-300 lens and the flash unit that fit the now defunct D50. The son of one of my co-workers will be the editor/photographer for his school yearbook next year, but my co-worker wasn’t really thrilled with the idea of his son carrying his more expensive lenses for school. The 70-300 isn’t a great lens, but it’s good enough for school yearbook photos, and an inexpensive way for my co-worker to pick up a lens for his son’s use.

On Friday the weather was slightly better, the gale out of the northeast was now just a nasty stiff breeze out of the west. The rain was no longer constant, but more of the intermittent variety, however, it was even colder, not much above freezing.

Four and a half days of rain has turned the ground to a spongy sloppy mess. There were few birds about yet again, I think that even some of the robins have left for drier ground. I did shoot a few photos though.

Turkey tail fungus?

Turkey tail fungus?

Lichen on a tree trunk

Lichen on a tree trunk

American robin

American robin

Female mallard

Female mallard

I can see from these that I need to do some playing around with this new camera and lens to get the most from it under adverse conditions, but it won’t be as bad as the old Nikon was. I think that a little tweaking will go a long way, as far as setting the exposure for better photos. I was shooting at rather slow shutter speeds, and low ISO settings, I think that if I had bumped up the ISO manually, so that the shutter speed was higher, that these would have come out sharper. We’ll see.

I am still planning a weekend trip somewhere, but that is iffy right now. The weather forecast is not looking good, but we’ll see. There may be some sunshine Saturday afternoon, or Sunday morning. I’m hoping, but not holding my breath. There’s rain or rain/snow in the forecast for at least part of everyday for the next week, so I’ll have plenty of opportunity to play, even though I am hoping for at least a few hours of sunshine this weekend to see what this new lens can really do.

That reminds me, one of the things I can do with the 70-200 that I can’t with the Sigma 150-500 is to use the built-in flash on the camera for low light situations. Because of the length and size of the Sigma, it will cast a barrel shadow when using the built-in flash.

I’m going to call this one completed and publish it, hoping that this weekend turns out good enough to do a post on the weekend, or even each day if I get really lucky. It’s getting close to the peak migration for some of the early migrating birds, so even if the weather is perfect, I’m going to be out there someplace finding something to shoot.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


The torture test

OK, as promised, here’s a run down of my third day using my new Canon 60 D and the Sigma 150-500 mm zoom lens, otherwise known as the cannon.

The day was cloudy and hazy, the worst possible weather barring any precipitation as far as checking out camera equipment. But, since we can’t all have sunny days, off I went, walking the hiking/bicycle trails near my apartment. I did have enough sense to set the auto-focus to the center single point rather than using all nine focus points that gave me trouble yesterday before I set off. That turned out to be very fortuitous.

Just as soon as I started on the trail, I noticed this young red-shouldered hawk perched nicely in a tree, and decided to see just what the zoom range of 150 to 500 mm looked like. So, here’s the hawk at 150 mm.

Juvenile red-shouldered hawk

Juvenile red-shouldered hawk

And here it is at 500 mm.

Juvenile red-shouldered hawk

Juvenile red-shouldered hawk

I worked my way much closer to the hawk, until it more than filed the viewfinder.

Juvenile red-shouldered hawk

Juvenile red-shouldered hawk

It’s so nice when they will pose for me! I tried to get some shots of him taking off and in flight, but didn’t do well.

Juvenile red-shouldered hawk

Juvenile red-shouldered hawk

Juvenile red-shouldered hawk

Juvenile red-shouldered hawk

Juvenile red-shouldered hawk

Juvenile red-shouldered hawk

Juvenile red-shouldered hawk

Juvenile red-shouldered hawk

I know, bad photos, and I’m not supposed to be posting those. I did for a reason, the zoom control for the Sigma lens is quite stiff, but that’s not a bad thing. I’m fairly certain that it will loosen up with use, and I’ll be able to zoom out quicker like I used to be able to with the old Nikon. The way that I have gotten the shots of hawks springing into flight up until now had been to stay zoomed in on the hawk until I saw that it was ready to spring, then zoom out quickly to catch it in action. I was a bit slow on the zoom since it is so stiff. All in all, I would say that the camera and lens performed very well for the conditions, and with the auto-focus set correctly for what I shoot, I had no problem picking the hawk out of the branches when it tried to hide from me.

Next up was a flock of chickadees, along with an Eastern Phoebe that was hanging out with them.

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

I got a very good workout swinging the cannon around following those small birds as they flitted about, but nothing like I got later on. I’ll tell you, I am going to have forearms that will put Popeye’s to shame after I use the Sigma for a while! But it is worth it, in the full size version of chickadee #2, you can even see its little tongue! Now that’s sharp detail. Also, I didn’t have too much trouble getting the auto-focus to pick the chickadees out of the brush.

Next, a muskrat that was out grazing in the grass.

Muskrat

Muskrat

Muskrat

Muskrat

Those aren’t really anything special, unless you saw some of the photos of muskrat that I have posted in the past. No matter what light I had to work with, the Nikon always turned them into featureless brown blobs, here you can see that they have eyes! In fact, the best photos of muskrat that I have taken before today were shot with my Canon Powershot, which says a lot about the quality of my old DSLR kit.

I saw a pair of squirrels getting frisky.

Fox squirrel foreplay

Fox squirrel foreplay

But the female didn’t like the idea of appearing in my porn photos, so she took off, leaving the male to shoot me a nasty look as if to say “Do you mind, I’m trying to get lucky here!”

Upset male Fox squirrel

Upset male Fox squirrel

Then there was a male mallard looking to handsome not to shoot.

Male mallard

Male mallard

When he and the missus took off, I shot them for practice, knowing what I would end up with.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

That was another time that I couldn’t get zoomed out fast enough. I can see that I’m going to have to be more selective as to when I crank the cannon all the way to 500 mm!

Then, a couple of signs of spring.

Spring will not be denied!

Spring will not be denied!

Pussy willows

Pussy willows

Pussy willows

Pussy willows

Considering the wind, I’m quite happy with the pussy willow shots. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to keep them in focus the way they were moving. I didn’t mention it before, but along with the clouds, there was a strong wind blowing, making things even tougher.

I love mallards, they can be such clowns.

Female mallard laughing

Female mallard laughing

I couldn’t figure out why she was laughing, must be she was playing hide and seek with a male, for she hid right after that, and when he showed up…

Male mallard looking for the laughing female

Male mallard looking for the laughing female

He was looking all around for her, but then he blamed me for her disappearance…

Male mallard giving me the look

Male mallard giving me the look

Then the real torture test began, I spotted a pair of Golden-crowned kinglets in the brush along a creek. The All About Birds website begins their description of that species this way, “A tiny, continuously active bird…”, and they’re not kidding! Chasing the two of them through the thick brush, trying to catch either of them in the open long enough to get a shot wore me out. As fast as the Sigma focuses, it still wasn’t fast enough most of the time. If you want to know what it is like trying to get a photo of a sub-atomic particle, try shooting photos of kinglets! Here are all the shots, good, bad, and ugly.

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Because they are such small birds, I started out trying to follow them with the lens set to 500 mm, that didn’t work. By the time I picked them up in the viewfinder, they were gone again. I tried following them zoomed out and then zooming in quickly, that didn’t work either. In the end, I ended up shooting at approximately 200 mm and cropping down to what you see in the last three shots.

By the way, some of the other shots were cropped, but not the hawk or the chickadees. I’m thinking of blowing the close up of the chickadee up to 11 X 17 and entitling it “Attack of the giant chickadee”.

My last photos of the day were of a turkey vulture.

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

The darned thing passed so low and close to me that I couldn’t keep it in the frame, now why can’t one of them do that when there’s some sun?

I didn’t get anything spectacular, nothing great, but considering the weather, I would say that the new combo did very well indeed! The combination of the Canon body and Sigma lens focuses in a fraction of the time that my old Nikon combo required, and I had little trouble picking even small birds like chickadees and kinglets out of the brush they were in with the auto-focus set correctly.

The exposure control system of the Canon is vastly superior than my old Nikon. It adjust all three of the exposure control triad settings to produce the best photo possible, and doesn’t adjust only the shutter speed. The light meter works well, I have it set to center weighted, and I didn’t tweak the exposure of a single photo so far. I could probably improve a coupe of these, the vultures in particular, but the point of this so far is to judge the camera’s performance, not my editing ability.

Even with the ISO set to 800, there is very little sensor noise apparent in any of these photos, a huge improvement over the Nikon. I can probably go even higher on the ISO when the need arises.

Except for the location of the on/off switch, the controls on the Canon are very well laid out, and I’m very pleased with the ease of being able to set it on the fly. The control dial to change settings is on the top of the camera, and I can keep my eye to the viewfinder while making adjustments when I want. The control dial for the Nikon was on the rear of the body, and I usually stuck my thumb in my eye while trying to adjust on the fly.

The Sigma lens performs flawlessly, the auto-focus is fast, quiet, and dead on. The image sharpness it produces is far superior than the cheap inexpensive Nikkor 70-300 mm lens I was using.  That’s not really a shot at Nikon, they produced an inexpensive lens of low quality, and I was sucker enough to buy it based on name alone.

As it turned out, I didn’t need, or couldn’t use the full length of the Sigma lens on this day. I got close enough to everything but the kinglets that I could have easily gotten by with a 300 mm or even 200 mm lens. For the kinglets, I wasn’t fast enough in swinging the Sigma around as they flitted around in the brush to keep up with them. That, and I am wondering how I am going to carry the Sigma in inclement weather has me rethinking what my next lens purchase will be.

I knew right from the beginning that the Sigma would not be the only lens I would buy, but I wanted the length for occasions such as my recent trips to Muskegon and Grand Haven to photograph the eagles and waterfowl. The Sigma is an excellent lens for those types of photo excursions, after using it for just three days, I am kicking myself for not making the purchase sooner this spring.

But, I walk everyday, no matter what the weather is, and other than keeping the camera and lens in a plastic bag on snowy or rainy days, I can’t think of a way to carry a lens of that length and weight around with me while protecting it from the elements.

The other lenses I plan on adding to my kit are a Canon 70-200 mm L series lens, and one of their fine EFS 15-85 mm lenses. My plan was to buy the wider angle lens first, then fill the gap with the medium telephoto, but I may change that order. I can afford one of those right now, but both of them will be pushing my budget. I am thinking of picking up the 70-200 mm L series this week, as my daily walking around lens.

There are two reasons for this, one is that the weather forecast is for rain everyday this week, which will make carrying the Sigma difficult to impossible. The other is that the images captured by the Canon body are so good that I can crop down and still come up with a very good photo.

This is not a knock on the Sigma lens, it is an excellent lens from what I’ve seen so far, I’m sure that it will see a lot of use. But, it doesn’t make sense to ruin it by getting it wet either, as it isn’t weather sealed. In fact, from what I’ve seen so far, I’m thinking that I won’t purchase a prime telephoto lens in the future as I had been planning on. The sharpness and details produced by the Sigma have exceeded my expectations!

The combo of the Canon 60D and the Sigma produced good, crisp images even on a dark, murky day as this one was, so I am thrilled with my purchase! I would say that they definitely passed the torture test with flying colors.


The birds, they task me, they heap me

Call me frustrated.

OK, enough cheesy references to Herman Melville’s classic “Moby Dick”, because this won’t be a classic by any stretch of the imagination.

You’re all probably frustrated as well, reading about my frustrations as it pertains to birds, sorry, I can’t help myself, as I swear, the little buggers are taunting me! Even more than usual of late.

Take Saturday, I went back to the county park near where I live where I had gotten the so-so shots of a Carolina wren a few weeks ago. I had just gotten started on my walk, when I saw the form of a wren flitting about in the brush ahead of me. I couldn’t ID it because the lighting was so bad, so I tried to get closer. The darned wren stood up on the sawed off end of some brush and started dancing, it looked like a school child dancing to get the attention of the teacher to get permission to visit the restroom, and quickly!

Winter wren dancing

Winter wren dancing

Winter wren dancing

Winter wren dancing

With the lighting as bad as it was for those, there’s no way that I can use them for my photo life list project, and I was fairly certain that was going to be the case when I shot them, but hope springs eternal, even if reality sucks. ;) It was as if the wren knew that I was in the wrong position for a good photo, the way that it perched there and danced.

I followed the wren, hoping for better shots, at one point it flew very close to me and landed on a large limb, for a split second. Before I could raise the camera up, the wren dove into an old woodpecker hole in the limb. I saw then that the wren was a winter wren, and not the Carolina wren I have been chasing for three weeks. I thought that I may get a shot of it as it exited, but it came out of that woodpecker hole as if its tail were on fire! So I continued to follow it the wren, and the next photo is the best of a very bad lot.

Winter wren partially hidden in the brush

Winter wren partially hidden in the brush

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, people ooo and aahh over shots of bald eagles, but they are an easy species to photograph, I just find them, then shoot away. It’s the little birds that are difficult subjects!

To prove that I haven’t become a complete bird brain yet, I did shoot a few photos of deer and formations in the ice.

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

Ice

Ice

Ice

Ice

The ice photos look much better in a larger size, trust me, they look weak here, you can click on any photo here for a larger view.

I also shot a couple of a fox squirrel drinking the water drops that had formed on the underside of some branches.

Fox squirrel drinking from water drops

Fox squirrel drinking from water drops

Fox squirrel drinking from water drops

Fox squirrel drinking from water drops

But, back to birds. My parents, especially my mom, were always interested in birds, we had bird feeders in the back yard long before it became popular. My dad would set his camera up and photograph the birds as they came and went to the feeders. When my dad was forced to retire early because of a heart condition, he started building an almost unbreakable bird feeder which he sold to supplement his disability insurance. (I say almost unbreakable because nothing stands up to a determined bear or hurricane force winds slamming a bird feeder into a concrete wall)

I have found that over the years, I have gotten lazy when it comes to making a positive ID as to the exact species of birds I see. A seagull is a gull, is a gull for example, or sparrows are another example. I would only identify birds by family for many species, and call it good.

Since I have gotten back into photography, and started this blog, my birding began to get back to where it should have been all along, and here’s why.

Later during my walk, as I was nearing the end of the five miles I did that day, I saw a flock of sparrows in the brush along Buck Creek. My first glance told me that they were probably just chipping sparrows, but, since I started my photo life list project, probably doesn’t cut it any longer. By then, the weather had gone downhill, it was sprinkling a little, and I’ll admit that I was dog tired for some reason, maybe it was five miles through heavy, slushy snow covering the trails.

Anyway, there was something about the chirping coming from the sparrows in question that told me that they weren’t chipping sparrows, and that I needed to investigate further. As I was working on the post for chipping sparrows that I have already done, I read that American tree sparrows look very similar to chipping sparrows, but the only part of the differences between the two that I could remember at the time was that the tree sparrows have a dark spot on their chest.

Maybe it was because I was tired that I broke my own first rule of critter photography, shoot first, shoot quickly, and then ask questions later. I wanted to get a photo of one of the sparrow’s chests, to make a positive ID. However, all the sparrows were perched with their backs to me, and I passed up what would have been good shots, hoping to get a chest shot, to see the dark spot, if they really were tree sparrows.

The wind didn’t help, for when one sparrow finally turned towards me, the way its feathers were being blown in the wind made me wonder if the dark spot I was seeing was its permanent markings, or caused by the wind moving its feathers around.

American tree sparrow in the wind

American tree sparrow in the wind

So, I shot some more.

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

By then I was almost positive the birds were American tree sparrows and not chipping sparrows so I tried for more shots of them at any angle. But by then, all my fooling around trying to get a chest shot had spooked most of the flock to the other side of the creek, and these are the best I could do.

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

Once I got back home and refreshed my memory by looking up American tree sparrows online, I found other ways of making a positive ID. Chipping sparrows have a bold white eyebrow and black eye stripe, plain gray breast with no markings, and a solid black bill. American tree sparrows have a bright rusty crown and eye stripe, bicolor black and yellow bill, and a small dark spot on center of otherwise plain breast. So, the sparrows in question were certainly American tree sparrows, but I had blown the opportunity for some good photos of them by holding out for the chest shots. Aaargh!

Now the question becomes, do I use those crummy photos in a post in my photo life list project, or wait until I get better ones. American tree sparrows aren’t year round residents, they migrate though Michigan in the spring and fall. It could be years before I run into more of them while they are migrating. Or, maybe not, for after boning up on identifying them, I noticed that a shot I had taken earlier in the week while on my daily walk around home that I had shot this one, thinking it was a chipping sparrow.

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

That was a practice shot, trying to get a good photo in bad lighting conditions, and it turns out that the bird wasn’t what I thought that it was when I shot it. And, for further proof that I really need to better my birding skills, I went back to the post that I did on chipping sparrows and found this photo!

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

It wasn’t a chipping sparrow, it’s an American tree sparrow. Seems that the little buggers are far more common than I thought, and I have to be a lot more positive in my identifications!

Oh, and here’s a chipping sparrow for reference.

Chipping sparrow

Chipping sparrow

Why can’t all species be easy, like chickadees?

Black capped chikadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chikadee

Black capped chickadee

Or northern cardinals?

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Or great blue herons?

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

No some birds have to be difficult, or I should say, I’m not a skilled enough birder yet at this point. Here’s another example. I spotted a hawk in a tree and shot a few photos, more for practice than anything else, as I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to what species of hawk it was. I just assumed that it was a red-tailed hawk, as they are the most common around here.

Red-shouldered hawk

Red-shouldered hawk

Even from that photo, I may have identified the hawk as a red-tailed, but when I blew up this next photo, I saw how wrong I can be!

Red-shouldered hawk

Red-shouldered hawk

From its facial features and tail, I saw then that it was a red-shouldered hawk, not a red-tailed. This is a red-tailed hawk.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

OK, so you can’t really use that last one as a comparison, I just threw it in here because I like it! But, even that hawk had to be difficult, it was circling the area, but would not clear the trees, so I had to pick a hole in the branches to get that shot.

I’m learning, a lot. Not only on how to identify birds, but also what a wonderful group of people birders are. I have now met several members of the Muskegon County Nature Club, and they have all been very helpful. And, that goes with a post that Tracy of Seasons Flow just did on red crossbills in his area. The crossbills were feeding from some one’s backyard feeder, and the home owner, who just happens to be a serious birder himself, is allowing birders to visit his backyard to see the crossbills.

Oh, and there’s one more source of frustration for me, people who trash our environment.

Trash in Buck Creek

Trash in Buck Creek

Now how the heck does a fire extinguisher end up in a creek? The plastic bottles are bad enough, that’s just laziness on the part of who ever brought them to the park, but a fire extinguisher?

Back to birds again, I actually enjoy the trials and tribulations I go through to get the photos of birds that I get, and if becoming a better birder makes me even more observant, then that’s a good thing. I’m meeting nice people and having fun, even if it becomes frustrating at times, so I’m enjoying myself, and who can ask for more?

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


If you seek inspiration, step outside!

I have a bunch of photos from the last two weeks sitting around in my computer looking for an excuse to be inserted into a post here. So, this morning I read a post from Allen Norcross who does the New Hampshire Garden Solutions blog, it was of some of his recent photos, and suddenly, the inspiration for this post on inspiration hit me! His post was on the beauty of nature, and that is certainly true, so who needs a common thread to pull a post together?

OK, I’ll admit that on days when it looks like this outside…

Fogged in

Fogged in

…that my photo output for the day goes down, but give me even a little sunshine and a critter….

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

..or two…

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

…or bird…

Blue jay surprised t see me

Blue jay surprised to see me

…and it’s not hard to see how I end up shooting so many photos per day.

But, part of the reason that I shoot so many photos is that I am always in search of The perfect photo of everything that there is to photograph in nature.

For example, I have already done a post on northern cardinals for my photo life list project, but that doesn’t stop me from shooting still more photos of cardinals.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

None of these are perfect either, but they are better than some in the older post. I am going to go back to that post and delete a couple of the photos, and insert a couple of these latest ones that I think are better. Since I have inserted the photos in this post, you won’t have to go back to the northern cardinal post. (Gee, I’ll bet that I am lowering my blog stats doing that. ;) )

I understand that not every one is into furry or feathered things to photograph, but there are far more things than critters for subjects to photograph while outside. For example, there are icicles…

Icicles, natures Christmas tree ornaments

Icicles, natures Christmas tree ornaments

…but, you may say big deal, icicles are very common. Oh yeah, what about icicles growing up rather than down?

Upside down icicle

Upside down icicle

I won't say what this looks like

I won’t say what this looks like

The base of the upside down icicle

The base of the upside down icicle

I found the inspiration for the logo for the Rolling Stones…

Tree's tongue

Tree’s tongue

…and a giant albino bunny…

Albino bunny with floppy ears

Albino bunny with floppy ears

…I even found the inspiration for the Bride of Frankenstein!

Sumac imitating the Bride of Frankenstein

Sumac imitating the Bride of Frankenstein

I learned some important things today as well, such as the bright white of freshly fallen snow makes a great reflector to illuminate the undersides of birds in flight!

Cooper's hawk in flight

Cooper’s hawk in flight

See, almost no shadows! Oh, and speaking of shadows, check these two out!

Shadowed illusions

Shadowed illusions

Shadowed illusions

Shadowed illusions

And finally, there’s this one.

Circles

Circles

I’m not sure what to say about that last one, other than I love it! I am quite proud of myself, it almost makes up for some of the crappy pictures I post. ;)

So if you need something to inspire your creative juices when it comes to photography, I usually find it just outside my door, you may find the same thing.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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Red-tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis

I’m moving the red-tailed hawks up in the schedule, just for Emily of Bella Remy Photography.

The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the most widely distributed hawks in the Americas. It breeds from central Alaska, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories east to southern Quebec and the Maritime Provinces of Canada, and south to Florida, the West Indies, and Central America. The winter range stretches from southern Canada south throughout the remainder of the breeding range.

Its preferred habitat is mixed forest and field, with high bluffs or trees that may be used as perch sites. It occupies a wide range of habitats and altitudes, including deserts, grasslands, coastal regions, mountains, foothills of mountains,  coniferous and deciduous woodlands, tropical rainforests, agricultural fields and urban areas. It is second only to the Peregrine Falcon in the use of diverse habitats in North America. It lives throughout the North American continent, except in areas of unbroken forest or the high Arctic.

The Red-tailed Hawk is widespread in North America, partially due to historic settlement patterns, which have benefited it. The clearing of forests in the Northeast created hunting areas, while the preservation of woodlots left the species with viable nest sites. The planting of trees in the west allowed the Red-tailed Hawk to expand its range by creating nest sites where there had been none. The construction of highways with utility poles alongside treeless medians provided perfect habitat for perch-hunting. Unlike some other raptors, the Red-tailed Hawk are seemingly unfazed by considerable human activity and can nest and live in close proximity to large numbers of humans. Thus, the species can also be found in cities, where common prey such as rock pigeons and brown rats may support their populations.

On to the photos.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Juvenile Red-tailed hawk

Juvenile Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

 

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

DSC_9273

Red-tailed hawk in flight

DSC_9274

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Most of those shots are of my two “pet” red-tailed hawks. No, I didn’t capture and keep them, except in photos. Both of them were hatched in a nest near to where I lived, one year apart from one another. They grew up with me chasing them around to photograph them, and became quite used to my presence over time.

This is number 16 in my photo life list, only 334 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Where do I begin? Lonesome George, friends, and enemies

Things may not have gone well for me as far as buying a condo, but I have hundreds of photos that I would like to post, however, I’m having a hard time figuring out where to even start with the photos, so let me tell you the story behind many of them.
In July, right after the Canada Geese had regrown their flight feathers and could fly again, a lone goose took up residence around one of the ponds near the last place I lived, so it seemed. It was there by itself for days, and it’s rather unusual to see a goose by itself. It was odd to see a lone goose day after day, almost always standing in the same place. I thought that it was a young male goose that had staked out that pond, hoping an unattached female would find the pond, and him, to be just what she was looking for, so I named the goose Lonesome George, after the old-time comedian, “Lonesome” George Gobel. (Most of you are way too young to remember Lonesome George Gobel.)

Every day, I would walk up near the pond, and there would be George hanging out on a “point” on the shore of the pond, all by himself. After a week or so, I saw that there was nearly always a female mallard hanging out with George, and the two of them seemed to become inseparable.

I took a few photos of George, but since I have a ton of goose photos, most days I just looked to see if he was still there, and he was. Then, looking at one of the photos I did take of him, I noticed that his wing had been injured, and that’s why he was still at the pond by himself, except for Molly, the female mallard who was always at George’s side.

That was the beginning of a learning experience, actually, many learning experiences. First of all, George was well aware of his injury, by that, I mean he went to great lengths to keep his injury hidden by always standing in spots where no one or no predator would be able to see that he was injured. His favored spot on shore was right next to a bush where he could see all around, but hid his injured wing from view. When George did leave his spot, he would go into the taller grass to feed, where his injuries were also hidden from possible predators.

DSC_0213

Lonesome George, Molly, and a few unnamed mallards

DSC_0003

Lonesome George trying to fix his broken wing

Those shots were taken later in the summer, after George started hanging out in more open areas.

I started hanging out near the pond on weekends, talking to people who lived in the housing development where the pond is located, trying to get some help for George, but to no avail. I called a few places myself, and was told “It’s just a goose” or “We have to let nature take its course”. A few of the people I talked to had also tried to get help for George, they were all told the same thing that I had been told. But, George was being looked after by Molly, the female mallard. She seldom left his side, and you’ll see her in most of the photos of George that I took. Day after day I walked up to the pond, and day after day, there would be George and Molly side by side. George made some other friends as well.

Lonesome George, Molly, and Craig the cormorant

Lonesome George, Molly, and Craig the cormorant

It was one thing to see George and Molly together everyday, but then Craig the cormorant showed up, and he took up residence at the pond as well. He didn’t stay at George’s side as Molly did, he would often perch on a piece of half sunken debris floating in the pond, but he did spend a lot of time with George, and was looking out for him as well, as you will see later.

In a complete reversal of what I would normally do, rather than trying to get closer to George and his friends, I stayed farther away, not wanting to stress George anymore than necessary. But, I did begin to spend more time at the pond watching, and learning. I spent most of my weekend days sitting under a small tree on the opposite side of the pond from where George spent most of his time. I could easily bore every one to death with all the photos I took of George, Molly, and Craig hanging out together, but I won’t. I shot them as a record, as a way keeping track of who was there at the pond, and who wasn’t. Because I sat on the opposite side of the pond, the photos aren’t as good as I would like them to be, but I think that you’ll find them interesting even though shot at a distance. I sure learned a lot sitting under that tree, about the interactions between the various species that came calling.

Craig would fly off for a while every now and then, but he spent most of his time at that one pond, either standing on shore near George, or perched on the debris floating in the pond. Molly was nearly always within just a few feet of George, most of the time within inches, except when he went off in the tall grass to feed. Then she would either feed in the water, or sit there at George’s spot, waiting for him to return.

So it seemed that things were as normal one Sunday in the middle of August when I arrived at the pond to watch and learn, but I had no idea just how much I would learn. George and Molly were hanging out in George’s little spot on shore.

Lonesome George and Molly

Lonesome George and Molly

Craig must have just finished fishing for his lunch, as he was perched on his favorite spot drying his wings.

Double crested cormorant drying its wings

Double crested cormorant drying its wings

There was also a great blue heron off to one end of the pond.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

When a second heron came swooping in.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

And landed across the pond from the first heron, with Craig between them.

Great blue heron landing

Great blue heron landing

All that happened before I had even made it to my spot under the tree. I made it to the tree, and had just sat down, when heron #2 started across the pond towards heron #1, croaking as he came.

Great blue heron flying past a double crested cormorant

Great blue heron flying past a double crested cormorant

Heron #2 drove heron #1 off…

Great blue heron in flight and fight

Great blue heron in flight and fight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Heron #1 took off across the pond…

Great Blue heron in flight

Great Blue heron in flight

Great Blue heron in flight

Great Blue heron in flight

Great Blue heron in flight

Great Blue heron in flight

Great Blue heron landing

Great Blue heron landing

With heron #2 following heron #1..

Great Blue heron in flight

Great Blue heron in flight

Great Blue herons in flight

Great blue herons in flight

Unfortunately, like an idiot, with two great blue herons flying right under my nose more or less, I filled the memory buffer of my camera, and missed some of the best shots of the two herons together. That’s one of the many problems in nature photography, you never know what’s going to happen, and when things do start happening, they happen quickly, and you don’t have a lot of time to think, let alone get to a better location to shoot from.

Heron #2 landed on the edge of the pond as heron #1 headed off for one of the other ponds.

Great blue herons in flight

Great blue herons in flight

The second heron walked up on shore, and up into the brush that you can see surrounding the pond, which I thought was a little strange at the time. I won’t bore you with the photos I took of the heron and Craig the cormorant jawing at one another across the pond, but they were, with George and Molly in the middle.

Then, things got really strange. The heron made a strike into the grass just as if it were going for a fish in the water, but of course, there wasn’t a fish to be caught, instead, there was a rodent of some type.

Great blue heron carrying a freshly caught rodent

Great blue heron carrying a freshly caught rodent

I felt sorry for the poor little rodent, the heron carried it to the water, then held it under water until it drowned.

Great blue heron carrying a rodent

Great blue heron carrying a rodent

Great blue heron drowning a rodent

Great blue heron drowning a rodent

After the rodent was dead, the heron swallowed it whole, just like it would have with a fish. Then, things got stranger yet.

The heron worked its way down the shore towards where George was standing near the bank, and I could sense that George was feeling uneasy as the heron got closer. Maybe I am reading too much into what transpired from then on, but I think that the photos show what I felt, you be the judge.

Craig the cormorant left his perch and took up a position in the pond near where George and the heron were.

 

Lonesome George, Craig the cormorant, and the evil heron

Lonesome George, Craig the cormorant, and the evil heron

Craig the cormorant and the evil heron were eyeballing one another, and doing some trash talking back and forth as well. Craig began diving for, and surfacing with fish, but rather than eating them, he flipped them up into the air and let them fall back into the water as if to tell the heron, “I’m a much better fisherman than you are!”.

Double crested cormorant letting a fish go

Double crested cormorant letting a fish go

The evil heron kept inching towards George, who was getting more nervous all the time, until he decided it would be better to head for cover.

Lonesome George heading for cover.

Lonesome George heading for cover.

As the evil heron watched George walking away, Craig the cormorant dove to launch a submarine attack on the evil heron, surfacing right under the heron’s feet almost.

A double crested cormorant attacking a great blue heron

A double crested cormorant attacking a great blue heron

The battle was on!

A double crested cormorant attacking a great blue heron

A double crested cormorant attacking a great blue heron

Like a ballet dancer, the evil heron leapt away from Craig the cormorant as he pressed his attack. Then, Craig the cormorant broke off his attack to check on Lonesome George, who had turned around, and was headed towards the battle.

A double crested cormorant attacking a great blue heron

A double crested cormorant attacking a great blue heron

After a quick glance to see that Lonesome George was okay, Craig the cormorant rejoined his battle with the evil heron.

A double crested cormorant attacking a great blue heron

A double crested cormorant attacking a great blue heron

Again, the evil heron danced away from Craig the cormorant’s attack.

A double crested cormorant attacking a great blue heron

A double crested cormorant attacking a great blue heron

And once again, Craig the cormorant broke off his attack to check on Lonesome George.

Craig the cormorant checking on Lonesome George

Craig the cormorant checking on Lonesome George

The evil heron was still jawing away at Craig the cormorant, and must have made a comment about Craig’s mother or what ever way birds insult each other, for Craig turned on the heron once again, and pressed his attack.

A double crested cormoorant attacking a great blue heron

A double crested cormorant attacking a great blue heron

A double crested cormoorant attacking a great blue heron

A double crested cormorant attacking a great blue heron

A double crested cormoorant attacking a great blue heron

A double crested cormorant attacking a great blue heron

Again, the heron danced away.

A double crested cormoorant attacking a great blue heron

A double crested cormorant attacking a great blue heron

But this time, Craig the cormorant stayed right on the heron’s tail. The evil heron decided that leaving the water and standing on solid ground may be a better option, and give him the advantage, so that what he did, running right into a small flock of mallards that had taken refuge from the fight in the tall grass around the pond.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Craig the cormorant looked on as the mallards escaped into the taller brush, with the evil heron still hurling insults at Craig.

A double crested cormoorant attacking a great blue heron

A double crested cormorant attacking a great blue heron

The evil heron, thinking that standing on solid ground would give him the advantage in the fight, started an attack on Craig the cormorant.

A double crested cormoorant attacking a great blue heron

A double crested cormorant attacking a great blue heron

A double crested cormoorant attacking a great blue heron

A double crested cormorant attacking a great blue heron

A double crested cormoorant attacking a great blue heron

A double crested cormorant attacking a great blue heron

A double crested cormoorant attacking a great blue heron

A double crested cormorant attacking a great blue heron

But the evil heron was no match for Craig the cormorant, so he retreated back into the brush.

A double crested cormoorant attacking a great blue heron

A double crested cormorant attacking a great blue heron

A double crested cormoorant attacking a great blue heron

A double crested cormorant attacking a great blue heron

I won’t bore you with the photos of them standing thirty feet from one another jawing at each other for a while, the photos aren’t that good.

 Anyway, that’s the way it ended, the evil heron eventually walked back into the brush to hunt rodents, and Craig the Cormorant, being satisfied that the evil heron had been taught a lesson, swam back to his favorite perch to keep an eye on things.

Double crested cormorant

Double crested cormorant

There was some more jawing back and forth between the evil heron and Craig the cormorant, and eventually, the heron flew off for better hunting grounds.

Maybe I’m adding too much human thought to all that transpired, but it sure looked to me as if Craig the cormorant had come to Lonesome George’s rescue when the evil heron was making George uncomfortable with his presence and demeanor. During the times when the cormorant broke off its attacks on the heron, and turned back towards George, it never made any signs of aggression, nor did it make any sounds of aggression towards George.

There’s one other thing to add to this before I post it. Early on, after Lonesome George first was injured, a woman who lived in the housing development where the pond is located would stop by as I was sitting under the tree there and the two of us would exchange notes as to who we had called trying to get an animal rescue group to help George out. Our discussion turned to the way that George, Molly the mallard and Craig the cormorant hung out together, and I said something to the effect of wondering if having other birds around, even if they weren’t the of same species, made George feel better. Her reply was “I don’t know, but it makes me feel better, so I would assume that he feels better having some friends around to keep him company.”

I could go on longer about the “friendship” between Lonesome George, Molly the mallard and Craig the cormorant, but you can see the photos and make your calls on that.

That’s it for this one, there’s far more to come, although I have to admit not as dramatic as this one, but I think that you’ll find them interesting as well in their own way. Thanks for stopping by!


R. T. Hawk Rodent Control, at your service!

WARNING! The following commercial contains graphic depictions of how the employees of R. T. Hawk Rodent Control dispose of unwanted rodents. While this is an environmentally friendly means of disposal, the squeamish or those who love rodents should surf to another blog now. Actual rodents were harmed in the making of this commercial. Parental discretion is advised.

Homeowners, do you spend hours each week working to maintain a well manicured lawn only to see your hard work destroyed by mice, moles, voles, or other small rodents? Do you wish that there was an environmentally safe way to control the rodent population in your yard?

R. T. Hawk Rodent Control is pleased to announce that now you can get the rodent control that you deserve! No more traps! No more poisons! No more dead rodents to dispose of!

We at R. T. Hawk Rodent Control can remove the unwanted rodents from your lawn for you, quickly and efficiently, and best of all, at no cost to you!

How can we make such an amazing offer? It’s easy. We at R. T. Hawk Rodent Control search the countryside for unemployed hawks. You know the ones that you often see along the expressways holding signs that say “Will work for mice”.

We recruit those hawks and put them to work for you!

One call does it all! Just call 1-800-EAT-MICE now, and one of our highly trained, skilled, and very hungry employees will go to work for you removing all those unwanted rodents from your yard soon.

How does our service work? Well, thanks to the photography of our friend, Quiet Solo Pursuits, we can show you how it all happens!

(While we at R. T. Hawk Rodent Control would like to thank Quiet Solo Pursuits for providing these photos, we do wish that he was a better photographer. But, since we strive to provide our services for free to those who need it, we didn’t pay him anything, so we suppose you could say we got what we paid for.)

When you call 1-800-EAT-MICE, here’s what you’ll get! One of our employees arrive to scan your property for any unwanted rodents using his highly developed sense of sight.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Once one of the pesky varmints is spotted, he will leap into action….

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

…capture the rodent before it can make its escape…

Red-tailed hawk

…remove the varmint from your lawn…

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

…then dispose of the unwanted vermin in an environmentally friendly manner, leaving no mess behind what so ever!

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

(Well, almost no mess, but we won’t talk about that as it ups the eew factor considerably)

We here at R. T. Hawk Rodent Control call it the scan, swoop, snatch, and snack method, and in case you missed it, here it is again.

Scan

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Swoop

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Snatch

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk landing

Red-tailed hawk landing

Snack

Red-tailed hawk

As you can plainly see, our highly skilled and motivated workers can soon have your lawn virtually rodent free! So don’t delay, call 1-800 -EAT-MICE today!
DISCLAIMER
This is a limited time offer and may not be available in all areas. This service is subject to the availability of hawks in your area. While our service has been approved by the EPA, R. T. Hawk Rodent Control is not responsible for any protests you may receive from PETA or any other animal rights groups. Nor is R. T. Hawk Rodent Control responsible if one of our employees harms other species of wildlife. Use this service at your own risk.

That’s all for this one, thanks for stopping by!


A drought update, and more

The drought here continues, we had a little bit of rain on Thursday, and just a few drops of rain this morning. It’s getting ugly around here as far as the stress being shown by some of the plant life. Some of the creeks are nearly dry, and probably will be completely dry by next weekend.

There’s no real rain in the weather forecast, but that may be a good thing. If I remember correctly, the most significant rain we received since the drought began came when there had been no rain in the forecast 24 hours before it fell. And I sure wish that the local meteorologist whose blog I follow would stop predicting that there’d be no more heat waves for the foreseeable future!

This is what he wrote back on Wednesday of this week as our last heat wave was about to break, “Weds. PM – Last really hot day until July”. Guess what? They’re now predicting high temperatures near 100 degrees for later this week, and it’s still June unless my calendar is incorrect.

I want to become an “expert” so that I can be wrong most of the time, and still get paid handsomely for being wrong. It isn’t just meteorologists that I’m talking about now, it’s the “experts” who predicted that Americans would be paying $5 a gallon for gas about now. Didn’t happen, thankfully. The same “experts” are now predicting gas prices below $3 a gallon by this fall. Maybe prices will be that low, I’m not holding my breath. It’s the “experts” who make predictions about what the stock markets, or the bond markets, are going to do. And so it goes, which reminds me of the worst “experts” of all, the media.

They pick which of the “experts” they are going to quote, not on the basis of informing the public, but on the basis of creating the most sensational headlines and the most buzz about their stories, all in hopes of increasing ad revenue. The media do their best to misinform the public when they pick zany “experts” to report on, quote, and to use as sources, then the media is shocked and amazed to find out just how uniformed the public is, now there’s a racket if I ever saw one.

Anyway, my efforts to combat spammers seemed to help, by making the posts that were getting the most spam private for a few days, the level of spam I’m getting is now back to normal, one or two a day. Of course what I don’t know is if Akismet was tweaked to ward off that spam while I had those posts switched to private. All I know is that I’m no longer getting swamped with spam, which suits me just fine.

It seems that there’s another trend towards black and white photography going on among some of the bloggers that I follow. I shouldn’t be surprised I suppose. Back in the early 1970’s when I was getting started in photography, you couldn’t consider yourself a “serious” photographer unless you were shooting using black and white film. Back then I wanted to be a “serious” photographer, so I dutifully shot countless rolls of black & white film, and hated the results I got, except for the portraits of people I shot in B&W.

I think that I am a pretty good portrait photographer, and here’s why I think that. The subjects of the portraits I did almost always hated the photos of them I took, while friends and family members would tell me what a great picture I had taken of the subject. That I had really captured their personality. I thought so too, which is why the subjects didn’t like my results, I got a little too far into their shell.

But for nature photos, I hate B&W most of the time. I love Ansel Adams’ work, but it’s already been down. Shooting high contrast black and white landscapes won’t make you the next Ansel Adams, it will only make you yet another Ansel Adams wannabe. That’s my opinion anyway, for what it’s worth. But, I could be at least partially wrong.

We see the world in color, that’s particularly true in nature. Modern digital cameras eliminate most of the weaknesses that were present in even the best color films, and modern photo editing software goes way beyond what a photographer could do with B&W prints as far as color photography these days. I don’t see a reason to eliminate the color from nature, when it’s the colors that make nature what it is, and what most of us find so beautiful in nature.

But then, I was looking at a group of recent photos I had taken, wondering just out of curiosity what they would look like if I turned them into black and white photos when it hit me, I shoot many of my color photos as if I were shooting in B&W, or at least I think so.

I’m not going to say why I think that just yet, instead, I am going to post a few of the photos I was looking at with no other comments other than what they are of to see what you think.

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

Fox squirrel sunning

Canada geese

Northern cardinal

Turkey

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

Wild rose

Wild rose

Wild rose

Wild rose and bug

Tiger lily

Fox squirrel

Dragonfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Bullfrog

American robin

American robin

Blue jay in flight

I would appreciate any comments along the lines as to whether you think these would look good, as good, or even better in black and white than they do in color, and why, and if you see what I see when I look at these.

Now then, a few more photos to throw in of a red-winged blackbird doing a little “hawk surfing”, as my brother calls it. These have nothing to do with color vs. B&W, but I think that they’re interesting.

Red-winged blackbird chasing a red-tailed hawk

Red-winged blackbird riding on the back of a red-tailed hawk

Red-winged blackbird riding on the back of a red-tailed hawk

Red-winged blackbird riding on the back of a red-tailed hawk

Red-winged blackbird riding on the back of a red-tailed hawk

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


The new bantam-weight champion of the world?

On Sunday, as I was approaching the pond that I call the back pond, I heard a commotion start among the birds there. It started with one of the kingfishers chattering away, but there’s nothing unusual about that, they chatter most of the time. I can’t even put my finger on it, but I knew something was going on, especially when I saw this approaching me as I looked through the openings between the trees.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

If you look closely, you can see that the hawk has something in its talons, with some grass trailing behind. The hawk was literally right on top of me when I pulled up to shoot before it disappeared over the next clump of trees.

I can’t say for sure, as I didn’t see what had transpired as I was approaching the pond, but I think that the hawk had just raided the nest of a pair of red-winged blackbirds and hadn’t been too fussy about grabbing some of the nest along with a young bird. What I do know is that there was one ticked off red-winged blackbird attacking every other bird near the pond.

Red-winged blackbird attacking a herring gull

I was a little surprised to see the gulls there, I see them flying over everyday, but they seldom drop down into any of the ponds here. The red-winged blackbird was doing all that he could to let the gulls know that they were not welcome.

Red-winged blackbird attacking a herring gull

I wouldn’t put it past a gull to raid another bird’s nest, they will eat about anything that doesn’t eat them first, so I wasn’t too surprised that the blackbird was attacking the gull. They made a couple of loops around the pond, as you will see, in a couple of the shots, you can even see the gull looking around trying to see where the blackbird was.

Red-winged blackbird attacking a herring gull

Red-winged blackbird attacking a herring gull

Red-winged blackbird attacking a herring gull

Red-winged blackbird attacking a herring gull

Red-winged blackbird attacking a herring gull

Red-winged blackbird attacking a herring gull

By then, the gull had figured out that the blackbird wasn’t going to give up, so the gull pulled up and took off for safer places to look for a meal. I thought that the show was over, the blackbird was heading towards shore, I assumed that he was going to land. I was wrong, the blackbird turned its anger loose on one of the spotted sandpipers along the shore.

Red-winged blackbird attacking a spotted sandpiper

I could be wrong, but I don’t think that sandpipers raid the nest of other birds, but that didn’t stop the blackbird from attacking!

Red-winged blackbird attacking a spotted sandpiper

The poor little sandpiper was no match in flight for the blackbird, but I learned that they have a good method of escaping an attacker, they dive under water! I missed the dive though, as I had no idea that it was what the sandpiper was going to do to escape from the blackbird.

Apparently, spotted sandpipers can swim underwater quite well, as that one surfaced thirty to forty feet from where it had entered the water. By the time I saw where it had come up and got the camera on it, the sandpiper was out of camera range.

Not the red-winged blackbird though.

Red-winged blackbird in flight

With no other birds left in his corner of the pond, he landed on one of the cattails, and began to announce his supremacy.

Red-winged blackbird announcing “Yeah, I’m bad”

The way that the blackbird was carrying on, you’d have thought that he had just been crowned as the bantam-weight champion of the world or something. But, if I’m right in my assumption that he lost one of his young to the hawk, then maybe he shouldn’t have been crowing quite so much. In his defense though, he was out-numbered, there were three herring gulls and the red-tailed hawk, the blackbird may have been busy chasing off a gull while the hawk made its attack on the nest.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Muskegon Wastewater treatment facility, drive-by birding

On Sunday, May 27th, I went to the Muskegon wastewater treatment facility for a day of birding. OK, so who goes to a wastewater treatment facility to do some birding? Apparently, quite a few people do, as the Muskegon County wastewater facility is well-known among birders as being a great spot to go. There are even several websites devoted to birding there. That’s where I went this past winter to get photos of the snowy owls that had come south out of Canada. You can see photos of the owl, and learn more about birding at the facility, including info on obtaining a pass by clicking this link to my previous post about the facility.

As so often happens, I went there to attempt to photograph a couple of specific species of birds, in this case eagles and kestrels, but came away with out photos of them, but of many other species instead. I saw both of the species I went there for, but never close enough to even attempt a photo. But, I do love it when I get back from one of these trips and have to do some bird identifications before I can post something here. And, I love it when I come back with a personal best photo of a subject!

Now then, as for why I included “drive-by birding” in the title of this post. For one thing, that seems to be the way that every one else goes about it there at the facility. I noticed that the first time I was there, except for with the snowy owl, every one drives very slowly along the roads in the facility, using binoculars and spotting scopes to view the birds. On my previous visit, I thought that it was because of the bone chilling wind, and at first during the trip yesterday, I thought that it was because of the heat. I don’t think the weather has anything to do with it, it is because of the birds and the lay out of the facility.

When I arrived there yesterday, I drove to the place where I wanted to start looking for birds, parked my vehicle, and began walking, despite the heat. That didn’t work very well at all. Except for the turkey vultures that came over to investigate me….

Turkey vulture in flight

…and this young red-breasted merganser that didn’t know any better…

Horned grebe

… the rest of the birds were long gone before I could get them within camera range, or I should say within range of a good photo.

A mixed flock of ducks

A mixed flock of ducks

I walked the entire half mile down one side of the man-made lake, and it was like the parting of the Red Sea as I went along. All the ducks in the previous two photos were on, or close to shore to begin with, but as I got closer, they headed out into the lake. Once I had passed them, they returned to shore.

OK, this isn’t working, there’s no place for me to hide, no cover at all on top of the berm that contains the lake, I’ll have to try something different, I thought to myself. So I walked back to my vehicle, chasing the ducks away from shore on my return trek, but with a difference. I caught this little fawn in all its cuteness on the other side of the berm.

Whitetail fawn

Whitetail fawn

Those are my best photos of a fawn, ever, so I was very happy about that!

I made it back to my vehicle, drove about half way down the end of the lake, and tried again, same result, the birds all swam or flew away before I could get good photos. But, I could see other vehicles parked on the road with ducks staying right on shore for the people in those vehicles.

I may be dense, but not so dense as to see that the birds are used to cars driving slowly along the road, but not used to people walking, so I did what every one else does, drove slowly along the road.

Male northern shoveler

Female northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

Female northern shoveler

Male gadwall duck in flight

A pair of gadwall ducks

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

This seems to be working much better! What else can I photograph from my vehicle?

Spotted sandpiper in flight

Tree swallow

Horned grebe diving

Red-tailed hawk

Sure glad my vehicle has a sunroof to make some of these shots possible!

Killdeer

Since we’re on deer…

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer fawn sleeping

Whitetail deer

It quite surprised me how many deer I was seeing out in the open during the middle of a very hot afternoon, the place is crawling with them!

Herring gulls by the thousands!

But even the number of deer paled in comparison to the number of gulls!

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

It isn’t just the waterfowl, wading birds, gulls, or deer that you’ll see if you visit the facility, there are far too many other species to list, or post photos of.

I saw, but didn’t get good photos of, meadowlark, both eastern and western, indigo buntings, eastern kingbirds by the hundreds, bluebirds, orioles, grosbeaks (both rose breasted and evening), and far too many others to even list. But that’s not all.

There are plots planted with lupines and other flowers for the endangered Karner blue butterflies, so there are the flowers to photograph as well.

Wild lupine

Yellow wildflower

Wildflower

I didn’t catch any of the karner blues, by then it was late afternoon/early evening, and I didn’t have any eagle pictures yet. There is a trail (road) that runs around the northern border of the wastewater facility, in a more wooded area as opposed to the southern part which is the man-made lakes and open farmed fields that I spent some time both driving and walking, I need to go back and walk most or all of it. There’s cover there for me to do my birding in my usual way. ;)

But, since I didn’t have any eagle photos, and I know that I’ll be back there again, I’ll try for the karner blues another time. Instead, I headed a few short miles west to Muskegon State Park, one of my favorite places close to home., and one of the best places to get eagle photos in lower Michigan.

I went to the eagle nest that I know about, and staked it out for a good hour or more, but never saw either of the parents return to the nest. I did manage a few no so good photos of the young ones though.

Eaglets in their nest

Eaglet in its nest

Eaglet in its nest

In a way, I’m jealous of those people who are able to photograph eagles that build their nests on platforms out in the open where the photographers can get spectacular shot of the eagles. On the other hand, it’s nice to see native eagles nesting in real trees again! Even if the nests are messy things in bad locations for photographers like me.

One other thing to note here, I found a fern flower!

Fern flower

Yes, I know, true ferns don’t produce flowers, they reproduce by spores. What I don’t know is if this was part of a real fern that produces the spores, or if this was a fern look a like that was flowering. I did try to look it up, but didn’t find the answer, besides, finding a fern flower is supposed to bring the person finding it luck, and I need all the luck I can get.

If you hadn’t noticed, I had to use the flash to get that photo, as it was getting dark by that time. I spent the entire day there in the Muskegon area, the lion’s share at the wastewater treatment facility, and yet, I feel as if I have just scratched the surface. I can’t say that I am a huge fan of birding while driving, but you have to do what you have to do to get the photos. I will be going back, there’s still too many birds left there for me to photograph for me not to go back.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


My Week…Perfect Weather

The My Week series of posts is a daily running journal that I do on the walks that I take daily around the apartment complex where I live. I’m located just south of the second largest city in Michigan, Grand Rapids, in the southwest part of the state. It was inspired in part by the phenology project done by Rebecca on her blog, Rebecca in the Woods.

Here you will find my thoughts about the wildlife that share this area, and maybe my thoughts on a news item I have read that pertains to nature or the environment. You can click on any of the photos to get a larger view of them.

This post covers the week from May 13 to May 19, 2012

Sunday

What a day! I filled the SD card of my Nikon in a lap and a half around here, over 350 photos to sort through. I did cheat though, I took most of the photos will sitting at the back pond. I am going to do a separate post on that which I will give the incredibly creative name of “Sunday at the pond“.

To begin, it was another absolutely wonderful spring day here, I don’t think that saw a single wisp of cloud the entire day. I started off wearing jeans and a T-shirt, as I got started a bit later than I would have liked. That’s the reason I didn’t go chasing eagles and kestrels over in Muskegon, I slept in too late.

First up, a few photos of the rhododendrons blooming here.

Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons

And I don’t know why, but I really like this one that I took of pine cones and the bright blue skies coming through the gaps between the green boughs of the evergreens.

Spring

I spent a considerable amount of time chasing some small birds through the trees and bushes out front. They were really make me work, and use all the skill that I have, which I guess isn’t that great, since this is the best that I could do.

Unidentified flycatcher?

I believe that’s a flycatcher of some type, but I haven’t had a chance to look it up yet. I really need to pick up a bird guide one of these days, hard to believe, but there are so many “new” species that are increasing in number to the point that I am seeing them for the first time, and because what I gather from checking online, some species have been renamed.

There were other small birds in the area, but the photos I took of them were so bad that I couldn’t use them to help me ID the birds, so I deleted those pics.

Here’s one I will never delete! I heard the song of a rose breasted grosbeak, looked up, and saw that he was flying as he was singing. In one of those rare instances where both I and the camera did what we were supposed to, I got this.

Rose breasted grosbeak in flight

I was doing my happy dance, let me tell you! All those “bad action shot of the day” shots that I take sure paid off for me this time. Best of all, I have several others that are almost this good.

Then, I spent quite a bit more time chasing a pair of cardinals through a tree. Neither of them would pose pretty for me, so I had to take what I could get.

Male northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

At the long back pond, there were four geese and a number of mallards all playing nice with each other. Why is it that one day they’ll be trying to kill each other over one of the ponds, then, they’ll be feeding together in the same pond a few days later?

Speaking of trying to kill one another, here’s two photos of eastern kingbirds going at each other in mid-air.

Eastern kingbirds in flight and fight

Eastern kingbirds in flight and fight

And while those two were going at it, the warbling vireo decided to begin singing.

Warbling vireo

I was having better luck spotting the small birds today, there was hardly any wind to speak of. I find it easier to spot birds in light winds as almost any motion that I see is from the birds causing leaves and/or branches to move, and it’s not the wind doing it.

No wind also makes it easier to get flower pictures.

Iris in bloom

And, butterfly photos.

Unidentified butterfly

Unidentified butterfly

That was about it for lap one. I stopped at my apartment and took a short break, and also changed from jeans to shorts, as it had gotten warm out there during the first lap.

My second lap started much like the first, I shot this butterfly that I haven’t looked up yet.

Unidentified butterfly

I have a few other photos, that I’m not going to post. The weather is predicted to be very nice all week, and even though I am going to do a separate post about the pond with plenty of pictures, I’m sure I’ll be getting more this week.

On lap two, I made it as far as the back pond.

Painted turtle

I don’t know if that was a female looking for a place to lay her eggs, or why the turtle was in the parking lot next to the pond, but it was, so there you see what happens when I see a turtle. Or, a kingfisher.

Belted kingfisher flying past mallards

Great blue heron

Seeing the heron, I decided to go around the pond and get to a spot where the lighting would be better. I sat down and started shooting, and shooting, and shooting, until my camera told me it was full.

Back to my apartment I went, I thought about just switching SD cards, but I was too anxious to see what I had gotten, so I did the download then.

After sorting through those photos, I took off to finish my lap. By then, the sunlight was fading, and it was beginning to cool down again. I was deep in thought about what had happened at the pond, and I had already filled the SD card once today, I didn’t want to get greedy and try to take even more photos. Besides, the first time I turned the Nikon on, it told me the battery was dead. Yeah. I never got a low battery display at the pond, it must be that the download to the computer killed the battery. That brings up a point I have been thinking about for some time now.

Both of my cameras do the same thing as far as battery life warnings. When you see the warning that the battery is getting low, it’s too late, the battery is about dead. I’ve seen in some product reviews that I am not the only one who believes that the manufacturers could do a much better job of displaying the life left in the battery.

With my Canon, I can slip in another pair of AA batteries and keep shooting, not with the Nikon which takes a special battery. I suppose I should pick up a spare battery for it one of these days. Maybe that’s why the manufacturers program the low battery display the way that they do, so that you will have your battery go dead on you, and you’ll buy a spare to prevent that from happening again.

Anyway, Not a lot happened until I got to the long back pond. This is going to be another mallard story, so if you’re bored with all my mallard stories, you can skip ahead. As for me, the more I watch them, the more they fascinate me.

As I was walking toward the pond, I see a pair of mallards slithering through the grass staying as low as they possibly could. OK, now what are those silly birds up to? Suddenly, they both flattened themselves down in the grass and disappeared.

A pair of mallards hiding in the grass

Believe me, there’s two mallards in the grass next to that sign. They were hiding, but from what?

I was looking around trying to spot the predator that had the mallards acting so scared, it turned out that the predator was another male mallard. He splashed down in the pond and set out hunting the pair hiding in the grass.

Male mallard hunting the pair hiding in the grass

Sorry about that photo, I forgot about the shutter lag that the Canon has. It looked like the jealous husband looking for his unfaithful wife and her lover.

The pair stayed hidden.

A pair of mallards hiding in the grass

I started to walk away, but for some reason, the female bolted. The male looking for them came after the pair full tilt, and that’s when I wished that the Nikon had been operational. I was trying to photograph the fight by looking at the screen of the Canon, but I couldn’t see what was going on. I heard bodies hit, saw feathers fly, and the three of them took off for other parts of the country, the female in the lead with her two suitors following her.

Mallards sure do make things interesting around here.

The only other thing of note from this lap, the white rabbit!

White rabbit

Maybe I should call it the grey rabbit, as it has to be quite old for a cottontail. It’s been around here for a couple of years now, and it was fully grown when I saw it the first time. There for a while I felt like Alice in Wonderland, chasing the white rabbit around, and never getting a good photo of it. All of a sudden this spring, it poses for me.

That’s about all from today, and what a day it has been. If Monday is anything like today was, I may have to call in sick to work for the very first time in three years.

Monday

Another fine spring day in West Michigan, it doesn’t get much better than this. After a cool night, it warmed quickly, and there was very little breeze again today. I was hoping to spot a few songbirds, but the impenetrable green wall has filled in almost completely.

What I mean by “impenetrable green wall” is that the foliage begins at ground level and goes all the way up to the top of the larger trees here. There are a few small gaps in the leaves, but on a sunny day like today, it is like looking into a room at night with the lights turned off. My eyes don’t adjust to the dim light quickly enough for me to see very much back in the woods. I have been trying to locate birds by sound, that works for the males when they are singing, but unless the females are moving around, it’s hard to spot them.

And that’s another thing, how do brightly colored birds like orioles and tanagers manage to hide so well in a sea of green. You’d think that they would stick out like a sore thumb.

But, back to the green wall, that’s one reason we have so many varied species of birds around here. There’s a little bit of every type of habitat, from the stands of large hardwoods left from before they built this place, to the evergreens that they planted here after it was built, to open grassland, both lawn and almost like prairie. There are creeks and ponds for water and waterfowl, and the green wall provides a lot of cover for all species.

Not many birds today, mostly insects, none of which I can identify. I’ll get to those photos in a minute. First, another goose fight story.

I got to the long back pond, and there were more geese there than I have seen together in some time. There were four on shore near the center of the pond, and at the time I couldn’t tell how many, but there were more under the weeping willows on the west end of the pond. I thought that it was strange with those geese suddenly sharing the pond that they had been fighting over before, but they seemed to be. Seemed is the keyword here.

One of the geese from under the willows, which I later identified as Father Goose, whose mate had nested at that pond, and began honking and taking an aggressive posture. That only lasted a few moments, then Father Goose went back to his family, hidden in the willows. There was a lone male mallard between the two groups of geese, and he was looking mighty nervous. His head was swivelling back and forth between the two groups even more than mine was. I guess he didn’t want to get caught in the middle of a goose fight.

I should have taken a cue from the mallard and stayed where I was at, but I circled around until I could see under the willows, and saw that there were two families of geese there, four adults, and nine goslings. OK, I’ve got lots of goose and gosling photos, nothing to shoot there, so I headed for the far end of the pond.

I was about to walk away from there, when Father Goose decided to clean house and rid his pond of all the other geese but the other family. One of the other ganders made the mistake of trying to take on Father Goose in a head to head fight. That did not work out well for the other gander, and it took off across the pond with Father Goose in hot pursuit. Father Goose caught him and body slammed the other gander into the water, pounced on its back, and proceeded to wail the crap out of the other gander with his wings and bill. The other gander was finally able to escape Father Goose, but the last gander wasn’t so lucky.

With one foe soundly defeated, Father Goose turned his attention to that last gander, who tried to escape on land. Father Goose caught him, body slammed it to the ground, and wailed on that one until it played possum. I thought that Father Goose had injured it for a minute or so, even when Father Goose relented and ceased his attack, that last gander just laid there not moving at all for several minutes.

When it did finally move, it ran off between some buildings, and never came back. Its mate saw that and began to follow him, also on foot. Father Goose let her pass, but not without letting her know that they were not welcome there.

There’s just so much about all this to try to understand, why some geese are welcome and others aren’t. The personalities of the individual geese, how aggressive Father Goose can be at times, contrasted with how meek the gander at the center pond is in defending his territory, and on it goes. And who knew that geese will play possum when they have lost a fight?

And yes, I took more photos, but they aren’t very good since they were taken from all the way across the pond, and looking into the sun, so I’m not going to bore you all with more geese fighting photos, unless I get some really good ones. ;)

It’s now Tuesday, I’m behind again. I have a few other photos from yesterday as well, I think that I’ll throw them in with any I get today, as they are flower and butterfly pictures.

Tuesday

Another picture perfect spring morning, clouds are predicted to move in later, so I’m moving outside before the clouds get here.

No clouds, just brilliant blue skies, perfect for the photo challenge this week, which just happens to be “Blue”. I spent quite a bit of time collecting photos for the challenge, which I hope to post tonight or tomorrow.

I hate to sound like I’m rubbing it in, but there are too many things to try to photograph around here, and so many stories to tell. Not big stories for the most part, but little ones. For example, there is a trucking company on the south side of the apartment complex. There’s a story in itself, why are zoning laws written as they are so that a trucking company with all the noise and all sits right next to an apartment complex. But that’s not the subject of this little story, what is, is the way that they have done the landscaping at the trucking company. The front is lawn, as you may expect, but the sides and back have been planted with various flowers, native and non-native, and just allowed to grow. To me, it is absolutely stunning.

Flowers

I have taken some of my best photos of flowers through their fence, I could easily do an entire post on their small “yard”, and I think that I will try one of these days. I will go in and ask if I can photograph their beautiful flowers so that I don’t have to try for what I can get through a chain link fence.

In another month, the flowers will really be blooming, they’re just getting started now. With the flowers, and the grasses, it is also a haven for small birds and animals. But it’s not a neatly manicured lawn, so there are probably many people who would say that it looks shabby. Argh! We really need to get over the love affair that we have in this country with the idea that the only acceptable landscaping is a few patches of flowers surrounded by a sea of fescue grass cut down to exactly 2.25 inches.

Some of the trucking companies flowers have escaped to our side of the fence, but, they don’t get a chance to really take off before they get hacked down. Argh! again!

Now, back to too many things to try to photograph. I saw several birds that I wanted to photograph, and did end up getting this one.

White-throated sparrow

What started it all was that I saw a brownish bird land in a sumac bush and didn’t pay much attention to it at first, assuming it was a robin, it wasn’t. It was a flicker, and I was closer to it than I have ever been to a flicker before, and I would have had a great shot, if I had been paying attention. Nope, it flew off before I came to my senses, but at least in looking for it, I found several other birds in the same thicket, the sparrow among them. I spent so much time chasing the sparrow that I forgot about the other birds.

And so it goes, I see the shadow of a bird go past me and assume that the shadow is being cast by a starling, robin, or one of the other very plentiful species of birds here. Then, I see from the shadow that the flight pattern isn’t the same as the common bird I assumed was throwing the shadow, look up, and see that I have missed a great shot of a Baltimore oriole or some other colorful bird in flight. There has to be over 100 each of the following species here, robins, goldfinches, starlings, English sparrows, and house finches. With all those birds flying around, it makes it hard to make note of every bird that I see, in fact, it is impossible to check out every bird I see flying, hopping, or even perched in a treetop.

At the long back pond, the Goose family and their friends were gone, the four geese that Father Goose beat the snot out of yesterday were back??????????

For my not so bad action shot of the day, I’ll throw in this one.

Canada goose in flight

And, it is almost time for me to fly as well, and it seems like I am just getting started. There was a news item about the way that the Michigan State Forest Campgrounds and trails are being reorganized that I wanted to get into, I touched on that once before, but the latest story I read had many more details about the reorganization, the price drops, and more. All I can say right now is that great management produces great results, or at least holds the promise of great results. Rodney Stokes and his staff at the DNR are working their rear ends off and our system of parks and campgrounds which was already one of the best in the nation is getting even better! More access at lower prices, plus, you’ll be able to make reservations at some of the busier State Forest Campgrounds soon. Even better, they are saying that they see no reason to close ANY of the campgrounds! Yahoo! That means that Round Lake State Forest Campground is safe for the foreseeable future!

On to Wednesday.

Wednesday

I forgot to mention the  weather other than the clear skies yesterday, warm and breezy. We received some rain overnight, now the brilliant blue skies are back, with just a slight breeze from the looks of things out my window.

I slept in late, too late. I stopped at the grocery store on my way home from a long night at work, made even longer by poor customer no customer service at the store. It worked great for them, I left without getting the issue resolved. That’s what I get for trying to avoid crowds, which I detest. Then, to make things even worse, when I did wake up, it was to no water, again.

When I did make it home last night, I noticed that the water had been shut off while I was at work by the blast of air out of every faucet when I turned them on. The water was off just long enough this morning for it to be an inconvenience. It’s on again now, but now I’m running even further behind than I was.

Time to get a move on!

As so often happens, when I was out for my walk today, I realized that I had forgotten write about something from a previous day. Yesterday, while I was tracking down photos for the Weekly Challenge, I stumbled across where many of the swallows and the pair of kingfishers are nesting. It’s an old pile of topsoil left over from when the condominiums to the southeast of here were built. The swallows and kingfishers have dug their nesting burrows in the face of the dirt pile. That explains why I would see the kingfishers perched near there, or circling the area, as I knew there was no water there. Maybe this weekend I’ll stake that area out and see if I can get a good photo of the swallows to get an exact identification of them, maybe even a great photo of one of the kingfishers.

Now then, for today. It was a bit cooler than yesterday, and the wind came up quite a bit during my walk, but it was still about as perfect of a day as one could ask for. It could be because of my very late start today, but there didn’t seem to be much going on around here. I say that, but that’s never really case, it more that I didn’t spot any new species, nor were there any great battles, just a little one.

Two male house finches fighting

Those two were engaged in one of the longest lasting aerial dogfights between house finches that I have seen. I snapped half a dozen photos, the auto-focus only picked them out of the trees for this one. I would say that’s my bad action shot for the day, but there’s this photo to take that honor.

Blue jay in flight

The Baltimore orioles were singing…

Male Baltimore oriole

..and singing.

Male Baltimore oriole

They are sticking towards the tops of the trees now, it’s going to be hard to get a good close-up of one for the time being. But I’ll keep on trying.

It is now Thursday at noon, I didn’t get a chance to work on this post or the Weekly Challenge last night after work, and I slept in later than I have in a very long time, so, on to Thursday.

Thursday

The beautiful weather continues! I considered taking a day off from my walks to work on this, but this kind of weather is all too rare! Bright blue skies, pleasant temperatures, it is too darn nice to sit inside and type, looking out the window wishing I was out there, not in here. So, off I go!

I’m sure glad that I didn’t sit inside, even if it means that I am even farther behind than I was before. For one thing, good shots of an eastern kingbird!

Eastern kingbird

Then, there was another of my they had me surrounded stories that unfolded. I saw a blue jay land fairly close to me, and began to go after it. But, I also noted a brownish bird off to my left, which turned out to be a flicker.

Northern flicker

Blue jay

And, as I was photographing those two, the place erupted in cardinals.

Male northern cardinal

Spoiling for a fight.

Male northern cardinal in flight during a fight

I missed the second one in that shot, but they both landed to face off with one another.

Male northern cardinals facing off

And, along came a fox squirrel to break up a good fight.

Male northern cardinal and fox squirrel

Fox squirrel ruining a good photo-op

So for my bad action shot of the day, one of the male cardinals flying away from the squirrel.

Male northern cardinal in flight

I also got a bad shot of the object of the male cardinal’s battle, but since I limit myself to one bad action shot of the day, I’m not going to post it. Oh, what the heck, here it is.

Female northern cardinal in flight

Those types of things happen everyday around here, the only difference this time is that I was able to spin around quickly enough to capture at least some record of most of what was going on. I did miss a few things, like goldfinches chasing each other through the scene, and probably half a dozen robins as well.

Later, I saw a shadow of a bird and could tell it was a swallow by its shadow, and that it had perched near to me, on the lamp-post I was standing next to in fact.

Barn swallow

It must be recharging its energy supply. ;)

At the back pond, I was able to get a couple of fairly good photos of a kingfisher in flight.

Belted kingfisher in flight

Belted kingfisher in flight

Belted kingfisher in flight

While I was there at the pond, I also got some really bad shots of swallows skimming insects off from the surface of the pond, that I’m not going to bore you with now. But, I think that I learned a great deal about the best way to get such a shot, we’ll see.

Since I’m behind, I’m going to call today’s entry done. I wish that I had more time, as always it seems, but too many critters doing too many interesting things. On to Friday.

Friday

The fabulous weather continues, although we could use some more rain. Maybe late this weekend. It’s been getting a little warmer each day, today, they are predicting a high near 80 degrees, with it getting even warmer this weekend. That’s getting too warm for my taste, so maybe this will be the weekend that I go to Muskegon to chase eagles and kestrels. It will be 10 degrees cooler at the lakeshore, plus, a partial solar eclipse on Sunday evening. That is, if the clouds from the approaching front predicted to move in don’t obscure it.

Anyway, time for breakfast, and another action packed day here at the apartment complex!

Call me crazy, but I swear that the critters read and respond to my blog. It wasn’t long ago that I noted that I wasn’t seeing the hawks as much lately, so they showed up in numbers today, making sure that I saw them.

I had just stepped onto the sidewalk when I heard a woodpecker drumming on a dead limb in the large cottonwood tree to the left of me. I was thinking of trying to track the woodpecker down, but I looked to the right first, and saw the brilliant white underside of a red-tailed hawk making a turn. Not only that, but the hawk had a flock of blackbirds on its tail. I pulled the camera up, but they all disappeared behind the trees before I could get a shot. I was a bit disappointed, but I shouldn’t have been, the hawk was leading its escorts closer to me for some better photos.

Red-tailed hawk being attacked by blackbirds

Red-tailed hawk being attacked by blackbirds

Red-tailed hawk being attacked by blackbirds

After making sure that I had enough shots to satisfy me, the hawk ditched the blackbirds, then came back for its close-ups.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Then, to make sure that they got mentioned again for a change, the hawk went off to find its mate so that they could make a joint appearance.

Red-tailed hawks in flight

In fact, for the better part of today, at least one of the red-tailed hawks was in view. But, they weren’t the only birds to provide me with opportunities for bad action shots, so did a pair of swallows.

Swallow hovering

They thought that the dryer vent on the side of a building looked like a good place to nest. I hope that they don’t try it though. Also flying about was the eastern kingbird.

Eastern kingbird landing on a fence

And, a boattail grackle.

Boattail grackle in flight

I was getting tired from all the swiveling and twisting I was doing to keep up with the birds, I really wanted one to sit still for a second, so this cardinal helped me out.

Male northern cardinal

But, it was only there for a second or two before it flew off, the distractions around here are incredible!

Beautiful distraction

I’m sorry, I just had to throw that one in. The very nice young woman had spooked the cardinal off as she walked by us, then apologized for messing up my photo shoot. You know, I remember that there was a time when I chased very nice young women rather than birds, but with every passing year, I have a harder time remembering why I did.

We have a new spokes-model here at Byron Lakes, no, not the pretty blonde, a blue jay who posed on the sign.

Blue jay

Then, gave me yet another action shot for the day.

Blue jay in flight

At the long back pond, there was a flock of eight geese, all together, some resting, some eating, none of them fighting. I still haven’t figured that one out, especially in light of what happened today at the front pond. One day, they are practically killing each other, the next day, they’re all one big happy family again.

And, this is what happened at the front pond today. I saw a green heron fly to the pond, and land near the pair of geese there.

Green heron and Canada goose

Mr. Goose didn’t like that, and started towards the heron to let it know it wasn’t welcome at that pond.

Green heron and Canada goose

Green heron and Canada goose

The heron didn’t go far, I did. I circled the pond to get closer and to get better lighting, but it didn’t pan out how I had hoped.

Green heron taking off

I never got a close-up, or even a bad action shot of the heron. It’s the first time that I have seen a green heron this spring, they’ll be around till fall, lot’s of time left to get some better photos of them.

But, why do the geese chase away the herons, when the herons are no threat to them, nor competitors for food?

I see that I have been lax in adding photos of flowers, so here are a few that I have taken the last few days.

Flowering tree

Orange flowers

Iris blooming

Raspberry flower?

Yellow flowers from a cultivated bush

And now, I’m going to call today’s entry done, and move on to Saturday.

Saturday

The warm-up is beginning today, with high temperatures predicted to be in the mid-eighties. That’s much warmer than I like, so I’m going to take my time today, and enjoy myself. I will most likely do some sitting, as I am not feeling the greatest either. Some of it is from allergies, some, I have no idea, but it feels like a good day to relax.

So much for our perfect weather this week, it was hot, too hot, too darned hot! The official high was 87 degrees, but it felt like being in an oven out there, probably because it has been so pleasant up until today. I’m still trying to shake off the effects of the heat, and not having very much luck so far.

It was already very warm when I started out this morning, with very little in the way of a breeze. I thought that it would be a good day to photograph some of the flowers here, but for some reason, the blooms are already wilting on some of the bushes that just began to flower during the week. I was waiting for the bushes to get covered in flowers before taking photos, but as with most of the trees and bushes this year, waiting was a bad idea. I did get this though.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

You can see that the flowers this butterfly was feeding from don’t look very photogenic.

I went back past the back pond and staked out the area where the kingfishers have their nest. I did manage a few so-so photos of their coming and going.

Belted kingfisher in flight

Belted kingfisher in flight

Belted kingfisher

Look closely and you can see that they were bringing food back to their young.

Belted kingfisher in flight

Belted kingfisher in flight

I’m not completely happy with those photos, they should have been sharper. I shot this one of a goldfinch at about the same distance away as the route the kingfishers were taking to and from the tree that they always stopped at before entering their burrow.

American goldfinch in flight

A goldfinch is a fraction of the size of a kingfisher, if I could do that well on the goldfinch, it seems the kingfishers should have come out better.

Belted kingfisher

I suppose that I’ll have to try again one of these days. I don’t normally sit near where birds have nested, but it didn’t seem to bother the kingfishers that I was there. Their nest burrow is practically in some one’s backyard, and it was very interesting watching them come and go. They would arrive by doing a wide arc to the south of the nest, perch in one of two trees while they made sure the coast was clear, then fly to the nest. Then, they would land in a tree again, chatter away like crazy, then leave by doing a wide arc to the north of the nest.

Belted kingfisher in flight

I also got more shots of goldfinches in flight.

American goldfinch in flight

American goldfinch in flight

A blue jay searching for food.

Blue jay

Even the birds seemed to think that it was too hot today, I noticed a few of the robins seemed to be panting.

American robin

OK, I didn’t actually know that birds panted much like dogs do to stay cool, but I have often seen birds with their mouths open when it is very hot out. I just did a quick web search, and sure enough, birds do pant to help regulate their body temperature when the temperatures get too high for them.

Now I have a new weather saying, “Hot enough to make a bird pant”. That can be taken a step further by specifying which species is panting, because it seems different species of birds have different temperatures that they find oppressive. The robins were definitely feeling the heat, the goldfinches seemed to love it. They were everywhere today, I saw  close to a dozen of them at a time in some of the trees. I knew that there were a lot around here, but I didn’t have a clue as to how many there really are.

American goldfinch

I think that I could have filled my SD card with nothing but goldfinch shots if I had set out to do that.

But, back to the heat, and how birds react to the heat. Another thing that I see robins do when it is very hot is to flatten themselves down on a cool spot of ground.

American robin

I know, it’s a crummy shot, but as I was circling the robin to get a better shot of it, the robin flew off. I did see several of them doing that today. They’re not dusting, as the there wasn’t any dust where the robins were flattening themselves to the ground. I can only assume they spread themselves out like that to put more of their body’s surface area in contact with cooler earth.

The heat didn’t seem to be bothering the cedar waxwings either.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

I have a couple of other shots from today that I want to post, then, I’m going to bore you all with a short mallard story.

Iris in bloom

Some of those are from my second lap today. I really had to push myself to go back out into the heat, but I did. I wish I hadn’t, but I did.

Now the mallard story. I was headed toward the long back pond when I saw a half-hearted fight break out between two male mallards, over this female, I thought.

Female mallard

It wasn’t much of a fight as mallard fights go.

Male mallards fighting

The geese were unimpressed.

Canada goose

But, there were a couple of things that I found interesting. One was the amount of conversation taking place.

Female mallard

Mallards in a conversation

Mallards in a conversation

And the other thing that struck me is that the two males fighting took their tussle back on shore, near several other males that were resting there. One of those males waddled over to the two fighting, and said a few quacks to them, and the fight stopped. Not only that, but the two that had been fighting sat down and started grooming together. Not grooming each other, but both of them sat down right next to one another as they preened.

The female swam off by herself for a while, and when she returned, one of the males waddled over to her, and they had another little chat. They were in the shade then, and the photo isn’t very good, besides, how many photos do you need to see of ducks quacking?

OK, if the female was in heat, and it sure looked to me as if she was giving the guys the come hither look in the beginning, then why weren’t all the males after her? Or, for that matter, why didn’t any of the males take her up on her offer? And, what did the third male quack to the other two to end the fight so abruptly?  And how did they become best buddies so quickly after they had been chasing each other around the pond?

I know, they’re only mallards doing what mallards do, but why do they do the things that they do? They sure do fascinate the heck out of me, the more I watch and listen to them, the more that they fascinate me.

Well, my headache from the heat is almost gone, I still feel run down from it though. If I do anything outdoors tomorrow, it will be near Lake Michigan where it will be cooler.  I could go on about how wrong the weather forecast for this weekend was, but I won’t. I swear, the more hi-tech gadgets that meteorologists get, the more unreliable the forecasts become.

That’s it for this week, thanks to every one who stops by!


Sunday at the pond

It all started innocently enough, I intended to get a few good photos of a great blue heron I saw hunting in a pond. I was taking my daily walk around the apartment complex where I live when I spotted the heron, and I circled the pond so that the lighting would be better for the photos I planned to take. When I go to the other side, I decided it was such a nice day, that I would sit there on the hill overlooking the pond, get a few heron shots, and spend some time soaking up the sun. Almost as soon as I sat down, the heron leapt into flight.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Fortunately, it didn’t go far, must be the fishing wasn’t very good where it had been.

Great blue heron landing

Great blue heron landing

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

It didn’t take the heron long to make its first catch in its new location.

Great blue heron swallowing a fish

Then, a mother mallard and her brood swam over near the heron.

Great blue heron and mallards

The mallards didn’t seem to bother the heron, it went on fishing.

Great blue heron catching a fish

Great blue heron with its catch

Great blue heron with its catch

Great blue heron swallowing a fish

Great blue heron swallowing a fish

Great blue heron swallowing a fish

That one must not have tasted very good.

Great blue heron

In the meantime, one of the mallard ducklings decided it was time to spruce up a little, while mama looked on.

Mother mallard watching her duckling bathe

Mother mallard watching her duckling bathe

Mallard duckling bathing

And, the heron kept on fishing.

Great blue heron

And to add some more action, a kingfisher began hovering over the pond, then began its dive.

Belted kingfisher diving for a fish

I missed the splashdown, but I caught the kingfisher just after it came back up.

Belted kingfisher in flight

Belted kingfisher in flight

The heron kept on fishing.

Great blue heron

I heard the mother mallard give one quick alarm quack to her young, and I looked around to find this.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

The heron kept on fishing.

Great blue heron

And it kind of surprised me, but the rest of the mallard ducklings decided to spruce up, even though the hawk had just been overhead.

Mallard ducklings

Mallard ducklings

The heron made another catch.

Great blue heron with its catch

Then, three male mallards swam over…

Male mallards

…and began showing off.

Male mallards

The heron kept on fishing.

Great blue heron

The male mallards got out of the water, and started quite the discussion.

Mallards

One of the males must have said something the female didn’t like, for she attacked one of the males.

Female mallard attacking a male

Female mallard attacking a male

He didn’t like that at all, and turned on her.

Male mallard attacking a female

Male mallard attacking a female

She turned the tables back on him.

Female mallard attacking a male

Female mallard attacking a male

Female mallard attacking a male

Female mallard attacking a male

Female mallard attacking a male

Then the two of them started jawing back and forth.

Mallards quacking at each other

Mallards quacking at each other

He must have really insulted her, for she leapt up into the air….

Female mallard attacking a male

…and dive bombed the male.

Female mallard attacking a male

Female mallard attacking a male

One of the other males got between the two of them, and broke up the fight.

Mallards being mallards

The female declared victory.

Female mallard declaring victory

And, they all head back to shore, where the conversation continued.

Mallards talking

The heron kept on fishing, as if none of that was going on just a few feet from him.

Great blue heron fishing

The female mallard left with one of the males.

A pair of mallards in flight

A pair of mallards in flight

One of the other males took off to follow them.

Mallards in flight

Leaving the third male and the ducklings behind. He didn’t stick around for long though.

Male mallard taking flight

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

And, the heron kept on fishing.

Great blue heron with its catch

That’s when the SD card in my camera reached its capacity. As I was headed home to swap to the spare card, the female returned, minus the two males, I was wondering if she was going to leave her ducklings for long.

In all, I was there at the pond for a little more than half an hour. I didn’t include shots of robins, red-winged blackbirds, or the bad shots of a killdeer flying overhead that I also took there. There may have even been others, so much was happening that it was hard to keep track of it all.

As I was walking away, I pulled out my back up point and shoot camera to show you that the heron kept right on fishing.

Great blue heron

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Weekly Photo Challenge: Sun

I should be able to knock this one out of the park, since I love being out in the sun and taking photos. I think that the one of my photos that best represents this week’s challenge will surprise you though, but first, a few others that fit.

Sunlight playing on the raindrops of a fir tree.

Raindrops on a fir tree catching the sun

And, the sun shining through the leaves of a red maple tree.

The sun as seen through the leaves of a red maple

The sun shining through the feathers of a red-tailed hawk in flight.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

The sun shining on the back of the same hawk.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

I suppose that I have to throw in a few of the cliché shots that fit, like turtles sunning themselves.

Painted turtles basking in the sun

Or the sun shining through a dogwood blossom.

Dogwood blossom in the sun

But you haven’t been able to see the sun in any of these, so it’s time to get creative.

The sun's reflection in the eye of a mourning dove

The sun's reflection in the eye of a robin

Or, I could go really clichéd again.

The sun over a dandelion

Not great, maybe I should try that again.

The sun over a dandelion

But, the photo that I took yesterday that just screams sun to me is this one.

Young woman soaking up some sun on a cool morning

That wasn’t posed, I was “hunting” a gold-crowned kinglet in the brush along a creek, you can see the brush to the right in the frame, when I saw this young woman reading. When she looked up to let the sun shine on her face, well, I knew that one was the one.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


The Weekly Photo Challenge: Journey

I’ll bet you already know where I’m going with this one, don’t you? Since the challenge this week is “Journey”, it could only be one thing for me, that’s right….

Coopers hawk in flight

…birds in flight.

Migrating birds make some of the most incredible, and longest journeys, other than man. I believe that the arctic tern holds the “record” for the longest migration, 25,000 miles (40,000 Km) of any animal. There may be some species of whales that come close to that, but I don’t have any photos of whales, or arctic terns for that matter, but I do have many photos of birds in flight.

Sandhill crane in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

The birds seem to do quite well on their own, but I would like to offer them a couple of tips based on some things that I have observed. First, you’ll find your journey much easier if you let go of the branch you were perched on before you decided to go on your journey.

Black capped chickadee

And secondly, if you’re needing a little motivation to get you started on your journey, there’s nothing like having some one trying to bite your butt and remove a few of your tail feathers to get you on your way!

Mallard taking flight

Mallards taking flight

So, to all you birds out there, it doesn’t matter if your journey is just a quick lap around a pond…

Mallards in flight

…or if your journey never seems to end…

Herring gull in flight

…I’m wishing for safe and soft landings….

Great blue heron landing

…for all of you.

That’s it for this little journey into my somewhat warped sense of humor, thanks for stopping by!


My Week…Spring is back

The My Week series of posts is a daily running journal that I do on the walks that I take daily around the apartment complex where I live. I’m located just south of the second largest city in Michigan, Grand Rapids, in the southwest part of the state. It was inspired in part by the phenology project done by Rebecca on her blog, Rebecca in the Woods.

Here you will find my thoughts about the wildlife that share this area, and maybe my thoughts on a news item I have read that pertains to nature or the environment.

This post covers the week from March 25 to March 31, 2012

Sunday

A beautiful spring day out there today! If you can picture the perfect spring day, then it would look just like today was! The temperature was in the mid-sixties, light breeze, and hardly a cloud in the sky for the first lap. On the second lap, a few very white puffy cumulus clouds formed.

I stopped to take pictures of the trout lilies that have begun to bloom.

Trout lily

Coming back out of the woods, I looked up to see this.

Red-tailed hawk carrying a chipmunk

I assume the hawk was carrying the chipmunk back to its mate.

At the first creek crossing, I watched as a pair of mallards were reaching up on the bank to pull leaves into the water, then eating something off from the leaves. I tried to get a photo to show me what they were finding to eat, but it didn’t work, I wonder what it could have been? Earthworms perhaps? Whatever it was, they must have found it tasty, they were both going nuts pulling the leaf litter into the water, then gobbling down what ever they found in the leaves to eat, as if they were starving.

At the back pond there were signs of life, human life. A family was there fishing, first time that I have seen that. I doubt if it explains why no waterfowl or wading birds are using that pond though.

At the long back pond, one of the mated swans was back.

Mute swan

And once again, it looked as if the gander was trying to chase the swan off.

Mute swan and Canadian goose

Once again, it didn’t work, the swan gets into its defensive posture, the gander circles for a little while, then swims back to his mate. I wonder how any times they play that game?

There seems to be a pattern, the lone swan arrives in the afternoon after spending its mornings someplace else. I still wonder about its mate, I did a drive by at the chain of lakes looking for the other swan last week and didn’t see it. There are so many little ponds and lakes around here that it would take me a day to check them all, and I wouldn’t be able to tell from that anyway. The swan could move while I was between bodies of water.

If I were a good wildlife photographer, I would be noting all the trees I see the birds carrying nesting materials to, so I could photograph the mothers on the nests, and the young when they arrive. But, I don’t do that. I leave nesting birds alone as much as I can, unless I stumble on their nests, like the ones under the carports here. Speaking of nests, I think the goose in the long back pond has nested.

Goose on a nest?

I gave her a wide berth when I noticed how she reacted to me spotting her, trying to make herself smaller than she is. She never moved or made a sound either.

I think that today was the first day in some time that I didn’t see a new arrival as far as migrating birds. It’s getting harder all the time to keep track of them, there is almost always a bird in flight in my view at all times. A good many of them are English sparrow and starlings, but there are dozens of robins, goldfinches, and other birds all zooming all over the place as they defend their territories and build nests as well. It is also getting harder to photograph them as the leaves bud out on the trees, as it gives them more hiding places. As if they needed more places to hide.

There were some first for the season today though, first bug in the eye, first bug in the ear, and first face full of spider web. It is definitely spring again!

Today was a photography kind of day, so I’m going to throw in a few more photos.

Black capped chickadee

Morning cloak butterfly on maple flowers

Robin grooming

Red-winged blackbird

Sharp shinned hawk in flight

Cedar waxwing

There’s another pattern around here on weekends when I do two laps like today. For the first lap, I have the place to myself, other than car traffic on the streets. By the time I start my second lap, then other people walking, jogging, biking, and so on come outside. It does’t seem to affect the wildlife much, although the other people sometimes spook off critters I was stalking. It’s not nearly as bad as in most of the parks near here, and not really a problem. The biggest problem I have is making sure that I’m not standing in the middle of the street. Sometimes I get so caught up in circling a bird or something, trying to get just the right lighting, and I find myself standing in the road. Oops.

That’s it for Sunday, on to Monday.

Monday

The weather forecasters were off by 10 to 15 degrees for today, they were predicting a high of around 60 degrees, that has been revised to the mid to upper 40’s. I don’t mind that at all, I should move to an even cooler climate than Michigan. Just noting how inaccurate the forecasts seem to be much of the time.

As far as I’m concerned, another perfect spring day! It was much cooler than yesterday, which suits me just fine. I like wearing a jacket. :)

The big news of the day, life in the back pond! As I was approaching, I could hear a pair of geese honking away in the pond, they took off before I got to the pond, circled a few times….

Canadian geese in flight

…then landed in the pond again. I would say that’s my bad action shot of the day, but it’s actually not too bad! The bad action shots are coming up in a minute or so.

The geese were nervous though, I wonder why. I stuck around for a few minutes, not only to watch the geese, but to watch this guy.

Kingfisher

It would hover over the pond…

Kingfisher

…then dive when it spotted a fish…

Kingfisher diving into the water

…it didn’t seem to be doing too well, and neither was I, it never got a fish from what I could see. I tried several times to get a photo of the kingfisher just before it hit the water and was too slow each time. Eventually the kingfisher flew off to another pond, so I continued on my way as well, with the geese still honking nervously, even after I left. I hadn’t gone very far when they left the pond for good.

It was nice to see something at that pond for a change. I had seen a great blue heron flying through the complex earlier, I was hoping it had stopped at one of the ponds, but I never found it, and I looked.

I have noticed some coyote or fox scat and tracks near the back pond, I wonder if that’s the reason the birds have been avoiding it?

The goose in the long back pond is definitely on a nest, let’s hope that no one does anything stupid to cause her to abandon any eggs that she has laid.

The swan was gone, I was early on my walk today, and as I said yesterday, she seems to return in the afternoons when she does come back.

The mallards continue to entertain me, I see them all over, sleeping under pine trees, wandering up and down the streets, and even feeding out in the fields next to the complex.

The rest of the birds are still busy building nests, as you would expect this time of year.

That’s it for today, on to Tuesday.

Tuesday

Cloudy, cool, and very breezy today, the temperature was less than half of what it was a week ago. It was even back to a winter parka today, as much because of the wind as the cool temperatures. Between the cool weather, my Achilles tendon that I pulled sometime ago healing up, and losing some weight finally, there was a bounce to my step that I haven’t felt in a while! I have dropped close to twenty pounds since the first of the year, that sounds like a lot, but on me, it is barely noticeable.

I hate getting old, over two years of walking two miles a day during the week, plus the workout I get at work, and I am just beginning to shed some of the weight I put on as an over the road truck driver. It has taken that long for my metabolism to speed back up.

Now, time to get really serious about quitting my other bad habit, smoking! I have let myself slide on that too much the last few months, and I’m back up to a pack and a half a day. :(

Enough of that, on to my walk. It was a horrible day for photography, no light, and everything was moving in the wind. I tried taking some photos of a chickadee early on, I couldn’t even get a focus lock because of the way the wind was bouncing it around. Of course it was the same for any flowers I would have tried to shoot, except for these rhododendrons.

Rhododendrons

I watched two red-tailed hawks hunting for a while, I would normally think that it was the pair that live around here, but I would have thought that the female would have been on the nest. There may be even more hawks around than I thought. I also saw one of the sharp shinned hawks later on, it looked like the male, but it was too far away to say for sure. It was looking over the mallards in the long back pond, but never made a dive at any of them.

The goose is still on her nest near the long back pond, the gander standing guard a little way away from her. I should look up how long it will be before we have goslings running around here.

The back pond was empty again, I did see four large flocks of cranes on their way north, I wish a few would stop. I have noticed that it looks like the geese and ducks sometimes sniff the air much like a dog does. I know that some species of birds, like vultures, have very keen senses of smell. It was thought that vultures find their food by sight, spotting dead carcasses while they circle high above. But, further research has shown that the vultures actually locate much of their food by smell.

Yesterday, I noted that I have been seeing canine scat and tracks near the back pond, could it be that the birds who do visit the pond can detect that either coyotes or foxes have been around by scent? The only geese that have visited that pond acted nervous the entire time they were there, and other than one pair of mallards, no waterfowl have stuck around the pond for any length of time at all. Hmmm.

I hate to keep harping on the back pond, but that used to be the best of the ponds for getting photos of waterfowl and wading birds, and now it is empty almost all the time. I have also noticed that a trail of some type is starting to show up very near the pond, I’ll have to cross the fence tomorrow to see if I can tell what is making the trail, or other signs that may offer me some clues as to what is going on there.

The speed at which the plants have been growing has slowed down a lot with the return of some cooler air. That’s a good thing, there was some worry that there would be a frost last night, and if there had been, the area fruit growers would have lost much of this years crop.

On to Wednesday.

Wednesday

I’m going to start with a news item this morning, the Michigan Court of  Appeals denied Golden Lotus’ request for leave to appeal, from the Otsego County Circuit Courts 2011 Order requiring them to fully remove their dam on the Pigeon River. Golden Lotus’ dam on the Pigeon River failed for the third time in June 2008, resulting in massive sediment releases which killed an estimated 450,000 trout.

This is a story that I watch very closely, since the Pigeon is my favorite trout stream, and the Pigeon River Country is my favorite place in Michigan. Just so you know, as a member of Trout Unlimited and the Pigeon River Country Association, I am supporting the removal of the dam in full. You can read some of my other posts on this story here, and here.

Just how good of news this recent court victory is remains to be seen, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning has vowed to fight a protracted court battle to let them not do what they agreed to do right after the last fish kill. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning will probably appeal this latest court ruling just to drag things out even longer.

That story, while good news, has put me into a bit of a funk. For the first time in a decade, I won’t be doing my annual May trout fishing week in the Pigeon River Country, I’m bummed! I’ve missed years before, too many of them, but I was hoping to keep my current string going until I croaked, or was no longer physically able to go. Back when I was younger, it was easy to say that there would be other years, but now that I am getting on in years, I don’t know how many other years there will be left for me. I won’t be able to see for myself how well the trout are doing in the Pigeon after the last fish kill by Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning either.

I have checked the weather forecast, and it was one of the most incomplete forecasts I have ever seen. That’s usually not a good thing, it often means the meteorologists have no idea what’s in store for us. Oh well, I can tell you that it is extremely windy outdoors again today, and bright blue skies, so it’s time for a walk!

The wind severely limited my photographic opportunities! At one point I was trying to shoot a male cardinal singing, and because of the wind blowing the branches around, I couldn’t keep the cardinal in the viewfinder. I did manage this one of a tufted titmouse though.

Tufted titmouse

The grackles have discovered the new swamp, they were back there in force this morning. With the wind and the trees starting to leaf out, it’s getting hard to tell what’s going on back there. The wind was so strong that it was drowning out many of the birds songs I normally hear.

It seemed a perfect day to check out the back pond further, so I went all the way around it. A kingfisher was there, but some one walking on the other side of the pond spooked it off before I could get a good photo.  The trails I mentioned before are definitely game trails, and not made by deer. The only tracks I could positively identify were those of a house cat, either a feral one, or one let out to wander. The ground was soft enough that if the trails were being made by deer, I would have seen the impressions in the ground.

I also found evidence of two bird kills that were made near the pond, but I couldn’t positively identify either pile of feathers, other than they were medium size birds. Of course I can’t say what made the kills either, it could have been one of the hawks, or a coyote, or a fox, or a cat, although the flight feathers I found would lead me to believe the bird was too big to have been killed by a cat, but I could be wrong. I almost wish I had a trail camera to set up along the trails to see what go on back there at night.

One way or another, four-footed critters are making the trails along the pond, they are too narrow to have been made by humans, and I saw no human footprints other than mine.

In the long back pond, Mother Goose is still on her nest, with Mr. Goose patiently standing guard. Less than a month, and there will be goslings to photograph! No swans today or yesterday, that’s not surprising, I guess.

I was deep in thought for much of my walk today, and there was so much crap blowing around, it was hard to stay focused on anything. There was always something in motion that I would catch out of the corner of my eye to turn my attention towards it, and distract me from what I had been looking at.

That’s it for Wednesday, on to Thursday.

Thursday

I am sitting here drinking my coffee, looking out the window, waiting for the predicted sunshine and blue skies to show up. I can’t help but notice how much the leaves on the trees have filled out this week, it won’t be long and I won’t be able to see anything but woods out of my north windows, and the parking lot and woods out of my south windows. The trees on the north side almost touch the building I live in, and even block off my view of the creek that flows there, not more than fifty feet from my window. In some respects, living on the third floor here is almost like living in the forest canopy. I can sit in my recliner, or out on the balcony, and watch what the wildlife does high up in the tree tops.

When it rains, I can watch hummingbirds and insects take shelter from the rain under the leaves of the maple trees, watch the squirrels and birds feeding, and if the trees weren’t so dense, get some great photos from my balcony of the larger birds flying past. I have often thought how cool it would be to have access to the roof, and set up a photographic observation post there to give me a wider view of the area. It isn’t unusual for me to look out of the south window and see ducks, geese, and hawks on an eye to eye basis, they use the street I live on as a flyway so that they don’t have to gain as much altitude to get above the trees.

My apartment is like the world’s largest, most comfortable nature blind, who would have thought? It was with much trepidation that I moved into an apartment complex in the first place, it was the first time I had lived anywhere but a house, either rented or purchased. The first spring that I lived here I began taking photos of the birds from my balcony, the list of species that I was able to photograph was quite amazing to me. Then, it was the white tail deer, and I even got a bad shot of a wood duck swimming in the creek. When I saw a coyote trying to catch one of the turkeys living here, right from my window, I knew this place was special. I was still driving over the road for a living at the time, so I didn’t have very much time to realize just how special.

After I switched jobs to drive locally, and have time to care for my elderly mother, I knew I needed to do something to shed the weight I had gained as a truck driver. That’s when I started my daily walks around the complex. With the aid of my GPS unit, I found that it was exactly two miles around. I didn’t bring my camera with me at first, my walks were supposed to be for exercise, and I even timed myself each day, trying to complete the walks faster all the time. That didn’t last very long, I was stunned at the variety of wildlife around here. I think that what prompted me to start carrying a camera was great blue herons feeding in the ponds here.

The ponds are rainwater run off ponds, not natural, but they fit in well with the area. The area around my apartment complex is mainly low and wet, with a few small natural ponds scattered around.

The water in the creek behind my apartment comes from two small ponds to the east of the complex, and a combination swamp and marsh to the northwest of the complex, the two small creeks from them join to form the creek behind me, which in turn, joins the main creek that flows through the complex. That main creek is the drain from the chain of lakes to the west of here. They in turn are man-made, or at least man enhanced lakes. The one thing lacking around here is higher ground. I have to go half a mile in any direction to find anything that resembles a hill. It would not surprise me to learn that this area was a lake thousands of years ago, or possibly an oxbow lake left when the Grand River changed course over the millenia.

The entire area is low and wet, there are several spots in the complex here that have standing water most of the time, and only dry out during summer droughts. In a way, I’m surprised that some one would build an apartment complex here, as it is so low and wet, but it seems to work.

Now, for my walk. I must have known when I started describing the place this morning that it would be a slow day when I went for my walk. The sun never came out, and it was on the chilly side. We didn’t get a frost last night, but it must have been close, as there were few flowers out today.

I also knew the day would come when there wasn’t much to say about that day’s walk, other than I spent some time watching all the usual critters doing their thing. The muskrats were feeding in the ponds and creeks, the squirrels were scampering around, the birds singing and nesting, a typical day. The only noteworthy items, a great blue heron flying low overhead, I was hoping it would stop at one of the ponds, it didn’t, so this becomes my bad action shot of the day.

Great blue heron in flight

The other thing is that I spent some more time around the back pond. Some of the trails are being made by woodchucks or groundhogs, which ever you prefer to call them, and some by cottontail rabbits, but there are other critters, some canine, that use them as well. It has been dry here, so the tracks in the few bare spots were so old that I couldn’t identify them.

That doesn’t mean it was a slow day, at each of the bridges that cross the main creek, I paused for a while to listen to the water gurgling as it flowed downstream, and the birds singing along the creek. If you were to stand there with your eyes closed, you would swear that you were in the woods someplace far away from any human development, rather than on a bridge in an apartment complex.

The other thing to report is that as soon as I finished the download of the few photos I took today, the sun came out as if some one had flipped a switch. It looks as nice out there as they had predicted it would be. :)

On to Friday, which may be another slow day as far as photography. The weather report is for rain and high winds, great for a walk, not so great for cameras. ;)

Friday

I woke up around my usual time this morning, to the sound of thunder rumbling in the distance. I looked at the clock, looked out the window, rolled over and went back to sleep for an hour or so, and because of that, I’m late getting started today. I made matters worse by spending too much time looking for the Outdoors section of the online version of the local newspaper, what a waste of time that was. But, it has allowed time for the thunder showers to move out of the area, and better late than never, so off I go!

The weather? Perfect, temperature in the thirties fahrenheit , a stiff, bone-chilling wind out of the east, blowing drizzle, rain, and occasional bits of precipitation that bounced when they landed. I know, I’m crazy. Nature never stops, some species even become more active in this kind of weather as they search for food to maintain their high metabolic rates.

It was a day for thinking as much as observing, thinking about the constraints of time and space. I was already thinking about time earlier, since I overslept, the coffeemaker had turned itself off before I finished all the coffee in it. I stuck the last cup in the microwave, hit the quick start button, and watched a pair of cardinals outside my window as the thirty seconds on the microwave timer counted down. It seemed as if I had just hit the start button when the microwave beeped to let me know another thirty seconds of my life had just ticked away. I thought at the time that if I had watched the timer count down, those same thirty seconds would have seemed like an eternity, not the blink of an eye as they had seemed while I was watching the birds.

I had just gotten started on my walk, and I was thinking to myself what a rotten day for photography with the weather the way it was. My camera was safely tucked inside my parka to protect it from the wind-driven rain, and then the thought hit me just how many times I see something really spectacular on days like today. If as on cue, a great blue heron rose up out of the creek I was nearing, to fly off to better hunting grounds.

That’s what turned my thoughts back to the constraints of time and space, in the case today, the space of the apartment complex I live in.

I love it here, and I love my daily walks, but the kind of weather we had today drives something deep inside me. It was the kind of day when I want to lace up my boots, and disappear for an entire day……or two. That’s quite impossible in an apartment complex just outside of Michigan’s second largest city when I have to be at work at a specified time.

How did I used to do it? There always seemed to be enough time satisfy those urges when I was younger, even if I did have to work back then. In those days, I would have stayed out in the woods until the last possible moment, then rushed home to change for work, and clock in right at starting time. But, I still would have wanted more.

Weather like today drives me to push past the areas I normally walk, to see what lies just beyond the line of trees, or the hill that blocks my view of my surroundings. In the winter, deep snow will wear my legs out to stifle that urge to wander. The heat of summer will turn me into a mass of melting jello that just wants to find a cool spot to sit and rest. But give me spring and fall with cool temperatures, and I want to roam forever!

Part of that is all in my head, there seems to be more going on in spring and fall because they are times of transition. I want to watch the transition take place. During the winter and summer, there is almost as much activity in the outdoors, but it becomes more of the same old same old very quickly after those seasons set in.

There’s something else about weather like it was today, watching what wildlife has to endure. As I approached the long back pond, I checked to see if Mother Goose was still on her nest, she was. Just a short way away was the gander, patiently standing guard over her and her precious eggs. Each of them knowing in their instinct driven brains that if they thought of their own comfort and found shelter from the weather, that the next generation of geese would perish.

How we humans whine about any perceived discomfort! I’m guilty of it, and I try not to be. If there is any species well suited for the weather we had today, it is the goose. Their down is such a good insulator that we humans harvest it to line our winter outerwear. Their feathers are waterproof, so the rain falling on them runs right off. But still, it can’t be pleasant to sit there in the wind-driven rain for endless hours. I’ll think about those geese when the urge to whine about the weather, or anything else for that matter, tries to take hold.

One more thing about “unpleasant” weather, I got back to my apartment and made a cup of hot chocolate. Nothing special about that, most of the time. But after a day like today, wrapping my cold fingers around the hot cup to warm them, that cup of hot chocolate was pure delight going down! That always seems to be the case on a day like today, the simple things in life take on a special quality.

As far as make actual walk, not a lot to report. The birds were taking a break from their mating and nesting to feed, not surprising as cold as it was. The insects were all hidden away in places that shelter them from the weather. The muskrats are as waterproof as a goose, so they were out feeding, as were the squirrels, that did most of their feeding under a limb or branch that sheltered them from the rain. I took one photo, I haven’t downloaded it from my camera yet to see if it is worth posting, it is of a female mallard sitting out in the middle of the lawn for who knows what reason.

I wrote earlier in the week that the weather forecast that day was one of the most incomplete I have ever seen. I noted that when I have seen forecasts like that it usually means the forecaster don’t have a clue as to what’s in store for us. That is sort of continuing, the forecasts for this weekend are for weather. It may be sunny, with occasional rain maybe, maybe frost, maybe warm, maybe we’ll all have to wait and see what the weather is really going to be like. :)

On to Saturday.

Saturday

Another cloudy morning waiting for the sun to make an appearance. It seems that most of this week I’ve had my camera set at ISO 400 because of the clouds, and I want to be able to set it at 200 and get some great photos!

I am debating whether or not I should go off on one of my rants about the mainstream media, I have a draft post started explaining why I would love to see  Howard Meyerson, the outdoor editor of what used to be the Grand Rapids Press fired and replaced. He ticks me off to no end, as do most of the mainstream media.

What a bunch of simpletons! Democrats good, Republicans evil. It isn’t that simple, especially when it comes to the environment. Just for the record, I consider myself a libertarian, and find myself aligned with Republicans more than the Democrats, and I consider myself to be a supporter of the environment and nature.

Here’s a snippet from Howard’s latest column….

“Of course, Gov. Rick Snyder is a strong, pro-business leader. (Rodney) Stokes is the first DNR director to be appointed by a sitting governor. DNR directors used to be appointed by the Natural Resources Commission, themselves gubernatorial appointees on staggered terms. The system somewhat de-politicized natural resource decisions.”

At face value, what Howard wrote is true, Rodney Stokes is the first DNR director to be appointed by a sitting governor, however, what Howard left out is germane to that statement. It was Governor Snyder’s predecessor, her royal highness, Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, who changed the way DNR directors are appointed, not Governor Snyder. Just as she tried, unsuccessfully, to take over the Mackinac Bridge Authority and every other autonomous state regulatory agency.

Under Jennifer Granholm’s admistration, funding for the DNR was cut to the bone, and beyond. All general fund money going to the State Parks and State Forest Parks was cut, the DNR closed some State Forest Campgrounds, and more were scheduled to close, including my beloved Round Lake State Forest Campground.

Funding for important projects cleaning up past pollution was also cut, such as the clean up of the old Zepher oil refinery near Muskegon, Michigan. That project was scheduled to be shut down, leaving oil and other harmful chemicals to leach into the Muskegon River, Muskegon Lake, and eventually, Lake Michigan.

Last January, Governor Snyder, a Republican, took office, and both houses of Michigan’s legislature were also controlled by the Republican Party. Suddenly, many of the clean up projects were fully funded again, I remember writing about them as I read the stories in the press. In the case of the old Zepher oil refinery, not only was funding restored, it was increased to levels the manager of that project had requested in order to expand the clean up. The state came up with the money needed to leverage Federal funding of the dredging of contaminated soil from Muskegon Lake.

Under Rodney Stoke’s direction, the Michigan DNR has been restructured, the Recreational Passport system expanded to include State Forest Campgrounds, and for the first time in I don’t remember how long, Michigan has opened a new State Park, the Rockport State Park.

So, who has been better for the environment here in Michigan?

I’ll be the first to admit, there are some loonies in the Republican Party, like the one who wants to put a cap on the amount of land the state can own. But from what I can tell, that bill is dying the proper death in committee, and it won’t make it to the Governor’s desk. Since Governor Snyder used to be on the board of the Michigan Nature Conservancy, I would hope that he would veto that bill if it were to make it to his desk.

But getting back to the media, they gave former Governor Granholm a pass when she was cutting anything and everything having to do with the environment, Democrats good, no matter what they actually do in office. They give no credit to the Snyder administration for restoring funding to clean up polluted sites, Republicans evil, no matter what they actually do in office. And then you have jerks like Howard Meyerson taking a shot at Governor Snyder for following the law as set by his predecessor. And, to imply that Rodney Stoke’s appointment as director of the DNR was in any way political does a huge injustice to a man who is probably the least political of any of the recent directors the DNR has had!

Howard should be taken out and horse whipped, for perhaps he forgets this snippet from a previous Grand Rapids Press story…”Gov. Jennifer Granholm on Wednesday appointed Rebecca Humphries as director of the newly established Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment.”  That’s right, the DNR had been combined with the DEQ at that time, making Howard’s latest statement true, but only on a technicality.

I would hope that eventually, the appointment of DNR directors would be returned to the Natural Resources Commission, the way it should be, and I would hope that Howard retires soon before he makes a bigger fool of himself than he has already.

Looks like I lost the debate as to whether I should go off on a rant or not. ;) I’m still waiting for some sun, but I guess I’ll venture out and hope that it shows up soon.

No sun on my first lap, I did stop off and watch a chickadee working on a nesting cavity.

Chickadee working on a nesting cavity

It was cool, cool enough that I could see my breath and see mist rising off from the ponds, not like yesterday, but close. I forgot that yesterday, all the ponds were shrouded in mist because the water is so much warmer than the air was. Today was much the same, and I knew I was going to do two laps, so I moved right along for the first one. Then, I took a short break, waiting for the sun, and eating lunch. About the time I finished eating, the clouds began to break up, and by the time I finished lap two, it was a sunny but cool day.

One of the muskrats was gathering more grass for its den.

Muskrat

Muskrat

Finally, some fairly good photos of that! The muskrats have created some bare spots in the lawn along the creek from all the grass they have been collecting.

Activity in all the ponds was about the same as it has been, one pair of geese, a few stray mallards, and that’s about it.

Since it had turned into a nice day, I wandered around in the field near the back pond which has been so lifeless this spring. The entire field is crisscrossed with small game trails. Some one told me today that people are seeing a fox in that area very often, and some of the trails could indeed be fox runs.

I also found the remains of another bird, this one appeared to have been a crow. Where I found the remains is very near a tree the red-tailed hawks use as a perch as they scout the field for prey.

All I can say for sure right now is that there is a predator large and wily enough to take down good-sized birds hunting around that back pond. That still leaves the question as to how the birds that normally would be using that pond know that the pond isn’t safe for them anymore? Is it by scent?

I wouldn’t think the hawks would explain it, even if it was a hawk that killed the crow. The hawks hunt over all the ponds, not just the back one. It was at the front pond that I witnessed the male sharpie make a pass at a pair of mallards way back a few months ago. The mallards are still there, and they have been joined by a pair of geese.

On the other hand, it would be hard to believe that a fox or a coyote wouldn’t venture a few hundred feet north to hunt the other ponds, except those other ponds have much more human activity around them. And, that reminds me of something else. Mother Goose is still on her nest on the long back pond, she built her nest right on the edge of where the  lawn service stops mowing, right at the corner of the building almost. Last year, all the geese nested on the back side of the pond in the weeds and willows, away from the human activity. Did Mother Goose build her nest on the human side of the pond this year to avoid any predators hunting the backside of the pond? Hmmm, I think I need to check the back of the long back pond for signs of predator activity there.

I may be on to something here. It does require further investigation, but that will be next week. I did get a few interesting photos today that are going to go into another post, as they aren’t specific to today, or this week.

I think (and hope) that these posts will start getting shorter as things settle into a spring/early summer routine, leaving me more time for other posts.

That’s it for this week. As always, thanks for stopping by!


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