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

Archive for June, 2011

The return of the Nikon

For those of you who don’t know, I have two digital cameras, along with my very old film camera, which is a Pentax Spotmatic II, and has been retired. I own a Nikon D50 DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) and a Canon Powershot SX 130 compact digital camera.

The poor little Canon is sitting in a container of rice right now as I type this, it went swimming with me on my last kayaking trip on the Lower Rogue River. I sure hope it recovers! I love that little camera! But, why would I prefer that camera over what is supposed to be the superior Nikon D50? I’ll get into that in a few, right now I’ll give you how and why I came to own both of them.

It started with an ex-girlfriend, I was still using my old film camera, and she would often lament that she didn’t have a camera of any type anymore. Being the nice guy that I am, for her birthday one year, I bought her a Nikon F80 SLR, I believe, and a number of lenses to fit it. Why she wanted a film camera I don’t know, but when I bought the lenses for the camera, I made sure that they were compatible with the newer Nikon digital cameras.

We shared that camera for a couple of years, it was far better than my old Pentax, but then, the inevitable happened, she took the Nikon and the 70 to 360mm lens for a swim while kayaking. I tried to save it by pulling the batteries out as soon as I knew she was OK, but both the camera and the lens were ruined. We were planning our next big trip up north already by then, and I didn’t want to be without a camera, so I picked up the D50 and another 70-360mm lens so that we would have a camera, and one that could use the other lenses I had purchased earlier.

She insisted on replacing the camera herself, which turned out to be a good thing. But, we both decided that we needed something cheaper to use while kayaking and fishing, just in case. We tried some of the one time use cameras, the cardboard boxes that you send in to have the film inside developed, but they didn’t work. I had a family of great blue herons fly overhead about 40 feet above me while I was fishing, and not one of the pictures I took with the one time use camera turned out.

When the ex and I broke up, I kept the D50 and the 70-360mm lens I had bought as a back-up, and she kept everything else. I guess that’s fair, I bought the other lenses and accessories for her as gifts, so it was only right that she kept them. I sure do miss having a full range of lenses to work with though, and my employment situation has changed for the worse since then. It will be a while before I can afford to outfit myself with all the lenses I would like to have.

I still didn’t want to risk the expensive Nikon camera while kayaking or fishing, so I investigated some alternatives. I looked into waterproof cameras, they would seem to be just the ticket for use while kayaking or fishing, but none of the ones on the market then at least would zoom in very far, and getting close is one of the keys to good nature photography in my opinion. The salesman and I talked, and he showed me a Canon Powershot SX100, and I loved it!  Between the optical and digital zoom, it would go to 20X to let me get zoom in on animals I saw. It wasn’t waterproof, but it was small, light, and easily stored, and a whole lot cheaper than the Nikon and one lens, so that’s what I ended up with.

It lasted a few years, of very hard use! It got wet a couple of times, once when I was fishing and stepped in quicksand, and had to swim out. Once some one knocked it off my kayak as we were preparing to launch. It went everywhere with me in all kinds of weather, and always took great pictures. I don’t remember what finally did it in, but it did quit working, and I couldn’t blame it knowing the abuse it had taken. I figured I had gotten my money’s worth out of it, so I bought another, but I did something dumb and bought a refurbished one to save a few dollars. The second one also took great pictures, but there was something about it that wasn’t quit right, from the very beginning.

It only lasted for about a year, so it was back to the camera store (They love me there!) for another one. The Powershot SX100 had been discontinued, and replaced by the Powershot SX130, so that’s what I bought. I’ve had it for a couple of years now, and noticed recently that I had taken over 3,300 pictures with it, until it went swimming with me.

That has forced me to fall back on the Nikon, which hadn’t seen much use since I bought the first of the Canons. On extended trips, I would bring both cameras, the Canon was the camera I carried with me everywhere, the Nikon was reserved for safe times when I knew it wouldn’t get damaged. It got to the point where the Nikon seldom left its nice safe case. The Canon fits in a shirt pocket, or my chest pack, it’s so small and easy to carry that I always have it with me. The Nikon is big and heavy, I can feel it in my neck muscles if I carry it by using the neck strap for any distance.

Another thing was that I was having difficulties getting good, sharp pictures from the Nikon. When I got a good one, it was really great, but not that much better than what the Canon will do, and the Canon takes great pictures all the time. Being forced to use the Nikon, I have been taking a lot of pictures with it the last few days, and have been more disappointed than ever with it. I solved the problem of out of focus pictures with it today. I was thinking about why almost all the pictures I took with it were fuzzy, and it dawned on me to check the diopter setting. The diopter setting is a way to adjust the camera to your eye, since everyone’s eyesight is different. I found it set all the way to one end of the scale, and I remembered that my ex had played with the setting, since she had very poor eyesight. I set it back to the middle of the scale, and I found that it was the equivalent of almost a half a turn on the focusing ring of the lens, a huge difference.

That explains why almost all the pictures were fuzzy. The only ones that came out well were the ones I took where the subject was more than far enough away for the focus to be set at infinity. Here’s why. With the diopter set way off, if what I was seeing in the viewfinder after the auto-focus had focused looked fuzzy to me, it was because the diopter setting made it look fuzzy. That would prompt me to set it to manual focus, but I would focus to the out of whack diopter setting, so the pictures turned out fuzzy, even though what I saw in the viewfinder was sharp.

Ok, so now I’m getting good pictures from the Nikon, more in line with what you would expect from an expensive camera with the reputation that Nikon has for quality. I still have some more playing to do, getting used to it and its foibles, that’s just a matter of using it more.

Honey bee on a milkweed flower, taken with a Nikon D50

There are some things I love about the Nikon, for one thing, it is fast! It is instant on, it recycles as fast as I can take pictures, even when I am using the flash. The Canon is slow, it has to go through a start-up mode before it is ready to shoot with, there is a noticeable time lag after you take a picture while it stores that one and recycles to be ready for the next picture, and it takes several seconds for the flash to recharge after every shot when it is used.

I also find it much easier to follow a moving target using the viewfinder system of the Nikon rather than the LCD display of the Canon. Maybe that’s from years of target shooting with a gun, I don’t know, but I do know I can track flying birds and the like much better with the Nikon.

Great blue heron in flight

The other great thing about the Nikon is battery life, I’ve shot several hundred pictures, many using the flash, and the battery still doesn’t need to be recharged.

And finally, one of the good things about the Nikon is that with its larger sensor, I can enlarge the pictures more before the images degrade.

As I told my brother in a discussion about a DSLR vs a compact digital, “The only thing a DSLR has over a compact digital is image size, meaning you can blow up a picture taken on a DSLR farther. But my Canon compact will go to 11X14 no problem, and even a size or two larger on really sharp pictures. Playing with my Nikon DSLR, I find I can enlarge the photos on my computer to a much larger size before the image begins to degrade due to the larger image sensor, but it only makes up for the fact that the Nikon won’t zoom or close focus as much as the Canon will. If I spent several grand for more lenses, then the Nikon would be superior to the Canon, but then, like you said, you would have the wrong lens on, or miss a shot while changing lenses.”

The bad thing about the Nikon, the auto focus sucks, there’s no other way to put it. It gets fooled all the time, and seldom focuses on what I want it to, no matter how I set the various setting for the auto focus. It often fails when it attempts to auto focus, even on seemingly easy subjects like a puffy white cumulus cloud against a bright blue sky, or a bird on a single branch with nothing else in the frame.

Purple finch

If you can believe it, I had to switch to manual focus to get this picture, the auto focus wouldn’t “lock on” and let the camera shoot as I pressed the shutter release. 

Almost every time I go to shoot any kind of a close up of something, be it a flower or a bird, I have to switch to manual focus. It’s not that big of a deal, but I would expect better from Nikon.

What I like about the Canon is that it takes great pictures under all conditions, better than I would expect in poor conditions. In fact, the Canon would often make a bad lighting situation look good.  I’ll go so far as to say that the Canon improves on what I see in the LCD when I look at the photos from it, while the Nikon is like every other camera I have ever used, the photo is never as good as what I see when I shoot the picture. Who ever did the programming and wrote the logarithms for Canon did a superior job! Never did I have to resort to manual focus, I could aim it at what I wanted to shoot, and the camera would focus in on it no problem, except at night when no auto focus camera works well.

Some of that is due to the fact that I have used the three Canons a lot, and know them inside and out. I know what they will do, and what they won’t do, and how to trick them when the need arrises. I learned from the first one how to set them for the way I shoot pictures, and that has continued on through all three of them. I am still  learning the Nikon, the pictures I get each day are better than the day before, and I am falling in love with its speed.

The Nikon takes great pictures in great lighting, but can’t hold a candle to the Canon in less than ideal lighting. The Canon is small, light, and easy to carry, the Nikon is a pain. The Canon does every thing, from wide-angle, to telephoto, to macro without buying or changing lenses. The Nikon would require several lenses, be even more expensive,and be even a bigger pain to carry if I carried a full complement of lenses for it. The only downsides I could find with the Canon was that it was slow, and battery life was poor. The battery life wasn’t that big of an issue, since it takes standard AA batteries, I always carry spares, since I have to anyway, to feed my DeLorme GPS unit that eats batteries almost as fast as I eat Peanut M&M’s.

In a way, this has been a good thing, I am finally starting to get high quality pictures from the Nikon on a regular basis now, not like in the past when I would end up deleting 90% of the pictures I took with it. That’s not all the camera’s fault, since the diopter has been set wrong almost as long as I have owned it. I may find that after a few hundred more pictures that it works as well the Canon, time will tell.

I do consider the Canon Powershot series to be almost ideal for nature photos on the go, and have recommended it to friends looking for a camera.

An update…I pulled the poor little Canon out of the rice, but it seems as if my Canon will shoot no more forever. It started to go through its start-up procedure, but the motor that drives the lens never even tried to operate, and after a few seconds, it gave me the dreaded lens failure error message. I guess I’ll be saving up for another one. Another one is still cheaper than any one lens I could buy to fit the Nikon to give it the versatility of the Canon. I would need at least two more lenses for the Nikon, a long telephoto lens, and a close focusing or macro lens.

I am getting better pictures all the time with the Nikon, but it’s still too expensive to be carrying in bad weather or when kayaking, not to mention how big and heavy it is.

I thought, for a split second, about trading the Nikon in, but it takes too good of scenery photos to do that, especially since the photos I take with it can be enlarged so much more.

I am going to have to get serous about finding a way to carry even the smaller Canon in something that is waterproof, but doesn’t take forever to get the camera out of it. I have dry bags I could use, but it takes so long to get the camera in and out, that I often miss great pictures if I store the camera in one. They make waterproof cases, but they are as slow or slower to gain access to the camera than the dry bags are. Time to get creative, or buy two more cameras, one, another Canon Powershot, and the other one a waterproof camera. Just what I need, another camera.


We both lost our heads

Well, I’ve had a shower and washed the river water off from me, so I am feeling a lot better. I know I smell better, I love rivers, but river water on humans or dogs doesn’t smell that nice. So, how did I get wet? I’ll get to that later.

Four of us went kayaking today, Connie, Mike, Randy, and myself, and we did the lower Rogue River below Rockford again. I know that we just did the same stretch of river about a month ago, but it’s close to home, and tons of fun after a heavy rain like we had this last week. We spotted my vehicle at the bridge on West River Drive, and put in at the River Street access in downtown Rockford. The river wasn’t quite as high today as it was the last time, but only by a few inches, it was still moving along at a good clip! And it was a beautiful day for a paddle, clear blue skies, and warm temperatures, couldn’t ask for a more perfect day.

I was paddling well, picking good lines through the rapids at Jericho, and at the rock garden at the powerline access site. I only bumped bottom a couple of times in the rock garden, so the river was still very high. During the summer, if we haven’t had much rain, I usually end up walking at least part of the way through there. Then we came to the real rapids at Childsdale, and I picked a much better line through the them this time than I did the last time, since I had a better idea of how they have changed. The standing waves weren’t as large either, today they were only chest high, not over my head like when we did it last. The waves were still high enough that we stopped at the pool below the Childsdale Bridge and drained the water out of our kayaks. I had thought about wearing my spray skirt today to stay dry, but it was the kind of day that getting wet was an OK thing, so no spray skirt.

On a side note, it is amazing how much the river has changed in just one year. When I was fishing the upper Rogue a few weeks ago, I noted many changes to a stretch of river that I had fished so many times that I knew it like the back of my hand. With the wet spring we had, I am having to relearn the entire river, almost as if I had never fished or kayaked it before. Not only have the rapids at Childsdale changed, or the changes I noted in my earlier post, but the sandbar just below Packer Road is gone, as are a couple of the small “islands” a couple of bends further downstream. I love rivers, one of the reasons is that there are always new things to learn, they are forever changing.

But, back to today, it was awesome! Surprisingly, we were the only ones on the river at that time, other than two guys fly fishing above Childsdale. I scared the crap out of one, I didn’t mean to. I yelled out to him that I was going behind him to give him some advance warning so he would know we were coming, and you could tell that it gave him quite a start. But, that’s the way it is when you’re fly fishing, you get lost to the world, which is why I love it so.

Other things of note, just above the rock garden, I saw what had to have been a 3 to 4 pound trout jumping out of the water as if it was hooked and being played by some one, but there was no one around. I wonder if it was leaping out of the water to catch dragon or damsel flies? Trout sometimes do that, and it was a big fish I saw today. Going to have to fish that spot soon! One other really cool thing was a deer standing just a few feet from the river as we went past. Then there were the turtles, including one super huge one that we saw just above Childsdale. It had to have been close to 24 inches in diameter, not a snapper though.

We were paddling along, enjoying the day, with Connie and I out ahead of Mike and Randy by a little bit, when we came to an island just above Rogue River Road. Connie went to the left, and I went to the right. Just about the time I got to the end of the island, I heard a splash, and saw Connie bobbing along with her kayak, she had gone over. She told us after that she couldn’t decide which opening to go for to get past a tree in the river, and waited too long to make up her mind. By then, the current was so fast that she couldn’t make it to the opening she did finally choose, and she hit the tree, which rolled her. Just last week I had told Mike that she wasn’t the greatest paddler, but she kept her head and didn’t get into to trouble. She did keep her cool after she rolled, she was staying with her boat which helped keep her above water, along with her PFD.

Another side note here, I think a dry hatch is one of the most important features to look for when shopping for kayaks. Not just for storage, but the dry hatches add floatation to the boats, keeping them, and possibly you, above water. With out a dry hatch, or added floatation, a kayak will sink, or actually, roll along in the current below the surface. I won’t own a kayak without a dry hatch for that reason. You can add floatation bags to kayaks with out dry hatches, but you’re better off with a kayak with the dry hatches in my opinion.

Anyway, Connie was holding on to her boat, but her paddle and a water bottle were floating away from her, so I swooped over and grabbed them, and could see she was having trouble getting her feet out in front of her due to the fast current. I was waiting for her to gain a foot hold so I could help her, but I didn’t know the water was too deep there. I was now floating backward, with her stuff and mine, but I didn’t want to hit her. I thought that she would be able to get to her feet, then I was going to paddle up against her boat to help her hold it in the current until Mike and Randy caught up to us. That didn’t happen.

What did happen is that I floated backwards into a log just above the surface of the water, too low for me to go under, but just high enough so the back of my boat started under it. Not good! I was thinking I would bump it, turn sideways, and that I could muscle my way off, wrong! My boat started going over before I could grab the log with enough muscle to hold me upright, and water started rushing into the cockpit, I knew I was a goner then. I had that helpless feeling of doom, well, not doom, but the feeling of knowing I was helpless right then. It seemed like it took forever, I’m sure it was only a second or two. I yelled “Bye”, tossed my paddle towards the front of my boat so I wouldn’t get tangled in the paddle leash, and waited for the boat to roll. It did, and I slid out of the cockpit into the river.

I popped up above the log some how or another, but my boat and everything else was below the log. I ducked under the log, saw my $1,000 hat floating away, grabbed it, and put it back on my head. No, I didn’t pay $1,000 for a hat, it is the hat I got from Trout Unlimited when I became a life member, and that did cost me a grand, but I refer to my life member hat as my $1,000 hat.

That water was cold! It was one thing to have gotten splashed earlier in the Childsdale Rapids, but it felt a lot colder fully submerged. I could just touch bottom with my toes when my head was almost fully under water. It was a struggle, holding on to my boat, corralling everything else floating around me, and making my way towards shore. On the way, I realized my camera was in my chest pack that I wear when kayaking, and it was fully submerged as well. Needless to say, I made it to the bank, I didn’t drown, but the camera did. I am hoping I’ll be able to revive it, but I’m not holding my breath, I did enough of that in the river today.

As soon as I had solid footing, I took the batteries out of the camera, and set it on the bank. I threw Connie’s paddle up there as well, mine was still hooked to the paddle leash hooked to my boat. I even saved my water bottle from floating away, but I lost Connie’s, and Connie. The last I saw of her, she was still holding on to her boat, floating downstream, with Mike and Randy, who had caught up to us by then.

With them there to help her, I began the task of getting the water out of my boat. If you have ever wrestled with a water filled kayak in a fast current, you’ll know it’s no fun. The spot I made it to wasn’t great, I was standing on a small shelf of knee-deep water, with a drop off to water close to over my head any farther away from the bank. The bank itself was close to three feet above the water, with a little spit of ground that was lower, just below me. I kept pushing my boat farther up onto the lower ground there as the water ran out of the boat, making it lighter all the time. I didn’t wait to get all the water out, I was worried about Connie, so when I had most of the water out, I grabbed everything I had set on the bank, retrieved my paddle from the log it had managed to get caught on, and set off downstream.

A side note on paddle leashes. Mine is a very long one that is self coiling, and having seen several types in action, I think the self coiling ones are best. Connie was using a paddle leash, her’s broke. I’m not sure what she had it attached to, the “experts” say to clip them to yourself. I’ve always been leery of that idea. Today’s the first time I’ve gone over, but I’ve never liked the idea of having a paddle attached to me if I were to ever go over in a fast current. My thinking is that if you are already fighting the current to stay alive, you don’t need a paddle clipped to you doing its own thing in the current as well, or worse, catching on something below the water and holding you under.

On the other hand, one of the times my ex-girlfriend went over, she got her feet tangled up in her coiled paddle leash as she was trying to get out of her boat as she rolled, which is why I tossed my paddle away from me when I rolled today. I clip my paddle leash to the small dry bag I keep my survival kit in, and that in turn is held in place by the deck bungees on my boat. My thinking is that if there was enough strain on the paddle leash, it would pull the dry bag off my boat, and the dry bag would act as a float to help me locate my paddle. I really like the idea of a paddle leash, with my being such a klutz, I think one is essential, even though I thought I would never use it as intended. I thought that having one would save me from losing my paddle when I was taking pictures or something like that. The one thing I didn’t have to worry about today was my paddle, the coiled leash stretched out as intended, and while my paddle was stuck on a log about 6 feet from me, it was still attached. All I had to do was tug on it a few times to get the paddle loose, then pull it back to me.

That’s what I did, and I struck off downstream with a boat a quarter of the way full of water, which makes it hard to paddle. Not only that, since everything was wet, I was holding the strap for my camera in my teeth so it wouldn’t get any wetter. After I rounded the first bend, I saw Mike on his way back upstream, looking for me no doubt. Randy and Connie were emptying the water out of her boat, it was the first good place along the bank to do so, but well over 200 yards from where she first went over. I pulled out there as well to finish draining my boat also.

I didn’t bother to change clothes then, the water that had seemed so cold when I first rolled didn’t seem as cold by then, and it was a nice warm day. The rest of the paddle was uneventful, and very pleasant, despite the drama of having gone over. We made it to West River Drive, pulled out, and I drove Randy and Mike back to their vehicles while Connie stayed with our boats. Then we stopped at Score on Northland Drive for a beer and a bite to eat.

One thing that did happen shortly after we were under way again is that we saw a Great Blue Heron standing on shore, not 30 feet from me, and it never moved. It was taunting me because my camera wasn’t working, I swear!

It will be a few days before I find out if my camera survived or not, I have it in a container of rice to dry for now. I still have my Nikon, but it’s NOT going on a river with me, EVER! Not even when I’m fishing.

I have to think about the chain of events between when Connie went over and when I did some more. I know why she went over, indecision, which is rare for her. I know why I went over, I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going while floating backwards while thinking of a way to help Connie. Other than watching where I was going, I don’t know what I could have done differently to help her. If I had gotten out of my boat to try to help her, then there would have been two of us floating downstream holding on to our boats, which is how we ended up anyway. If I had paddled closer to her, I don’t think there would have been anything I could have done to help her in that current anyway. I could have thrown her a rope, but I’m not sure it would have helped either. I guess what I am saying is that I need to think of a good way to perform water rescues on the river. As much as I’ve read about kayaking, that subject never comes up. Part of that is because every situation is different. Another part is that there isn’t a lot you can do in a kayak without going over yourself, since they are so tippy to begin with, and you need both hands to paddle. Actually, I hope the situation never arises again, but I know that’s wishful thinking on my part.

Oops, I forgot to add in the map of our trip last night when I published this. You can click on this map for a larger, printable view.

Lower Rogue River, Rockford, Michigan

Today, I’m going to be lazy

I’m sitting here after my morning walk around the apartment complex listening to the rain falling outside. The rain was just a very heavy mist while I was walking, which made it a great day for a walk. The temperature is cool for summer, which makes it just right for me. It’s nice sitting here with the windows open with not much to do. I know I should be working on another nature photography page, or organizing pictures on my computer, or something, but I’m not going to do much more than enjoy the day and think.

Day lilys in the mist

It’s only a little over a week until the long 4th of July weekend, and I still haven’t made any plans on where to go or what to do. I would like to kayak out to Saint Helena Island, near the Mackinac Bridge, and check out the historic lighthouse and island. The island is a nature preserve held by the Little Traverse Conservancy and open to the public. The problem is the weather, paddling 3 miles across Lake Michigan in anything less than perfect weather isn’t for me. By perfect, I am talking mostly about light winds. I don’t want to get out to the island and have to deal with 6 foot breakers while trying to get back to the mainland. That, and it is such a long way up there, and I’m not sure what else I would do in that area if the weather wasn’t good for kayaking. I’m sure I could find something to do, but then, it will be the 4th of July weekend, and the area will be crawling with “fudgies”. Maybe I better rethink that one.

There are other places I could easily go, I could do the last part of the Mason Tract Trail I haven’t completed yet, or wander around in the DeWard Tract. There is always the Pigeon River Country, so much of it I haven’t explored yet. I have all those nature preserves held by the Little Traverse Conservancy to explore, including some newer ones along the Pigeon River that I missed the last time I was there.

Mist on a spruce

Mike would like me to start another blog and focus solely on kayaking, I am mulling that one over. I do need to add a lot more to the kayaking information I have started on here on this blog, but there are only so many hours in the day. I would like to include a GPS developed map and track for any rivers that I write about from now on. I have done nearly every river in the lower peninsula outside the southeast part of the state, and even then, I’ve done the Huron and a few others there. To tell you the truth, they all begin to run together after a while, and that’s a project that I couldn’t do from memory alone. I have to refresh my memory when I am going to run some of the rivers, even ones I have run many times in the past. For one thing, many of the access sites share the same names on different rivers. I’ll keep plugging away at it, a little at a time. I need to win the lottery, devote all my time to my outdoor pursuits, and hire an assistant to help me take notes.

And part of the problem with that would be the same one I have trouble with when writing up hiking places. I mean, a hiking trail is a hiking trail, they are all pretty much the same, and how much can you write about them other than where they are, how long the trails are, and give people a general idea of the lay of the land. I thought about adding lots of pictures of either trails or rivers, but that would get boring to any readers in a hurry, because so many of the pictures would be very much alike. I think I could do more with pictures than I have, but that I should focus on put in and take out sites, along with a couple of pictures of the rivers and trails themselves.

I know that I am getting more hits on this blog all the time from people looking for information on all things outdoors, and I will continue to add more to this site as time permits. I should have started this blog years and years ago, before there were even blogs. I don’t want it to sound like I am bragging, but what I know about the outdoors in Michigan would fill a small encyclopedia of several volumes, and I really don’t know that much about the state compared to what there is to learn and do. There are places I used to go to often that I haven’t been back to in a couple of decades, and when I do go back, I find things are completely different than from when I used to go there. Most of the changes have been for the better, but not all, I think the state crams people in too close together in the camping areas in state parks nowadays. That’s why I’ll stick to the state forest campgrounds, I like my space. But when I was at Ludington State Park a few months ago, I was surprised to see how much nicer it was than when I used to go there regularly, other than the shoe horn camping areas.

And as much as I have travelled around the state, and spent as much time hunting, fishing, hiking, kayaking, and exploring this state, I continually hear about places I have never been to yet, but would love to go.

I know that I don’t want to turn my blog into what most of the outdoor blogs I’ve seen are, a place to sell advertising space on, with meaningless gear reviews to attract advertisers, and very little information. I know when I go searching for information on the web, most of what I run into is ads, with little or no useful information at all. I do find the Michigan DNR’s website to be fairly useful, but horrible as far as navigating it. I hate to say it, but as far as for information, the state’s Pure Michigan website is worthless, nothing but ads, and often from businesses far from the area I am looking for information on. I would love to get hooked up with the Pure Michigan ad campaign and be able to provide useful information to people who are thinking about exploring this great state. I would also like to pitch the idea for a Pure Michigan coffee table book and other merchandise, stuff people would actually find helpful. Not much chance of that ever happening though, money trumps help every time.

I wouldn’t mind earning a few bucks off from my website, but money isn’t my main motive here. I love the outdoors, I love Michigan’s natural beauty, and I like being able to share what I know with others. If you’d like information on something but don’t see it here yet, feel free to ask! I may not be able to answer your questions, but even if I can’t, I may be able to point you in the right direction about what ever it is you are looking for.

As far as what I’ll do over the 4th, I know I’ll end up doing what I always do, watch the weather this coming week, and what they are predicting for the weekend, then I’ll make my decision a day or two before I leave. It will depend on how much rain we get, whether the rivers in an area will be too high for fishing, and if the weather will be good for photography, exploring, or for fishing. As long as it isn’t too hot. If it is, then I know I’ll be standing in a nice cool trout stream somewhere, even if I’m not going to catch any fish.

This weekend, I think Mike and I are going to do the lower Rogue below Rockford, Michigan again. It was a blast a few weeks ago, and should be again with all the rain this week.

Kayaking the middle leg of the Little Muskegon

Mike sent me a text Saturday evening, wondering if I would like to paddle on Sunday, and of course the answer was of course. After some confusion caused because I missed a text from him, we were able to meet up on Sunday morning to decide where to paddle.

I suggested Coopers Creek from the Kent County Park down to where it meets the Flat River above Greenville, Michigan, then floating the Flat into Greenville and taking out at the dam in town. I scoped that out this spring when the water was high, and it would have worked then. But when we got to where I thought we could pull out by the Greenville Museum, it would have meant a long, wet, muddy carry through some pretty thick brush, so we decided against it.

My next suggestion was what I call the middle leg of the Little Muskegon River. There are enough access sites to the Little Muskegon that you can do anything from an hour or two paddle, or even a weekend/overnight trip if you stay at the private Mecosta Pines Campground just west of the town of Morley. I’ve never camped there, so I can’t tell you much about the campground, other than that it’s there. If you did want to do an overnight paddle, you could start in Altona, paddle to Morley, spend the night there, then proceed on the next day.

I’ve always broken the Little Muskegon into three day-paddle sections, from Altona to Morley, which we did a few weeks ago, from Morley to either Daggett Road or Newcosta Ave./W. County Line Road, and from one of those down to where the Little Muskegon joins the Muskegon River at Croton Pond. Each of the three stretches of the river take from 4 to 6 hours to kayak or canoe, depending on how fast you paddle.

Normally, I go from Morley to Newcosta/ W County Line, but since we were getting a late start, I suggested Daggett Road instead to cut an hour or so off from the time. I should explain the name for Newcosta/ W County Line, that road is on the boundry between Mecosta and Newaygo Counties. Newaygo County calls it Newcosta Avenue, while Mecosta County calls it West County Line Road. To make it more confusing, it is also known as CR 607, but you’ll be able to see it on the map I’ll include later in this post.

Anyway, we dropped my Explorer off at Daggett Rd and headed to the dam in Morley to put in. The dam is right in town, you can’t miss it, and there is a city park there. While Mike was getting his gear stowed, I took a few pictures.

Cedar waxwing

That shows you what a beautiful day it was! We shoved off, and before we had really gotten going, I saw a little blue heron fly across the river in front of me. I ended up seeing three or four of them during the course of the day, but wasn’t able to get pictures, darn. It did set the tone for the day though, as we spooked a number of deer from the river’s edge, along with great blue herons, kingfishers, an eagle, lots of turtles, ducks, and more. Then there were the wildflowers, I should have taken more pictures of them, but I was too busy trying to notice everything we were seeing to take pictures, but I dd get one good one.

Wild iris

The Little Muskegon is a smaller river, with many twists and turns along the way. It actually gets twistier the farther down you go, until just before Croton Pond when it slows and straightens out a bit. One of the best things about it is that it is seldom crowded. We had a beautiful day with temps around 80, but we only saw 5 other kayakers on the river all day. There was a couple who were fishing from their kayaks, then a family of three later on. Part of that is because the Little Muskegon isn’t well-known, and part of it is because it is a smaller river, and it gets tight in places.

We had one portage, well, one lift over a freshly fallen tree. But, there were a few places where there was only enough room on the edges of log jams for a kayak to squeeze through, and one or two more places where we had to duck down under logs just above the water. The river kept us on our toes! There’s no whitewater except for a few short stretches of barely class I rapids on the lower river, below Newcosta/ W County Line Rd, and since we didn’t go that far, we just had some fast riffle water and rocks to negotiate around, and the logjams. Even though all the rivers are receding since we haven’t had much rain the last two weeks, I never ran aground hard enough to have to get out and walk, which sometimes happens on the Little Muskegon during dry summers.

Back to the wildlife, Mike and I spent most of our time pointing out birds and animals to each other as we went along, here’s a picture of a mother merganser playing injured to lead us away from her young.


And here’s one of the back-end of a very large snapping turtle that was sunning itself on a log three feet above the river.

Snapping turtle

 This one was huge! About 24 inches in diameter, but of course it was facing the wrong way. I was working my way around the log he was on when he decided I was too close and slid off the log, making quite the splash!

The only downside to the entire day was minor, the lithium batteries for my GPS unit lasted a whopping 2 hours and 17 minutes. Part of that is my fault, I know battery life is terrible, but I forgot to set the display to a screen that would have extended the battery life. However, the best I have gotten out of any batteries, lithium or alkaline, has been around 5 hours tops. That’s not acceptable performance as far as I am concerned, and I’ve heard DeLorme is no longer going to support the PN-40 model that I have. Oh well, I can make nice maps like this one for every one who wants information about our kayak trips.

Middle leg of the Little Muskegon River

You can click on the map for a printable version. As you can see, it took us about 4 hours to cover the almost 13 miles of river today. We were moving right along most of the time, but not in any hurry, and we only took a very short break to stretch our legs. It was too nice of a day to rush, and we were busy watching the wildlife for most of the trip. Either that, or we were working our way through the tight squeezes in some of the logjams.

We didn’t take a lunch break today, so by the time we finished our trip, we were famished. That meant dinner at the Moe-Z-Inn in Morley again. It’s one of those small town dives with really good food, and the service was even pretty good today.

Another photography page is done

I have finished a page on lighting, flash, and fill-in flash, you can read it here if you like.

High contrast

A great day fishing

I just got home from an afternoon and evening fishing for trout on the upper Rogue River, and what a great day it has been. It’s hard to believe that it is almost the middle of June and it was my first fly fishing day on the Rogue, most years I start in April, or even March. This has been one cold and wet spring, with the river too high for fly fishing whenever I’ve had time to go. Even today the river was still high and somewhat muddy, but at least it was fishable, and fish I did. Well, sort of, you can call it fishing, as I did catch fish, but it was almost too nice out there today.

To start with, I chose to use my Far and Fine 5 wt. rod rather than the Trout Bum 3 wt. rod I normally would have used. Since I got shut out during my week of vacation in the Pigeon River Country, I wanted to catch fish, and I know the Far and Fine will when other rods fail. Sure enough, about my fourth or fifth cast, I hooked a small brown, about 8 inches. Nothing to brag about, but it was a good start. I’m rather surprised I hooked it, because I really wasn’t paying attention to fishing. On the way from my vehicle to the river I had noticed that there were wildflowers blooming all over. Most of them I can’t identify, but here’s one I can, an iris.


 From the time I first waded out into the river, the trees along the banks were full of birds doing their thing. Rose breasted grosbeak, cedar waxwings, catbirds, woodpeckers, robins, and a lot more. The real story today is that I caught any fish at all. Most of the time I was looking at wildflowers and watching birds. I don’t think that I have ever had a day when I’ve missed as many hits as I did today, and I didn’t even care. It was such a nice day, and I was too busy with the flowers and birds, I didn’t care if I landed any fish or not. Most of the hits were small fish anyway, I could tell that by the way they hit, and since I don’t keep any fish, they were almost an interruption when they did hit. I did land a few nice ones, not bragging fish, but it was the upper Rogue I was fishing, and bragging fish are few and far between on it. Here’s one of the better ones, it doesn’t look like it in the picture, but it’s about 14 inches.

Rogue River brown trout

Do you know how hard it is to land a fish while fumbling for your camera without dropping it in the river, and take a picture of a fish that you are holding while you snap the picture? And, want to return the fish to the water as soon as possible so it lives to fight another day?

 As I wrote in my post Confessions of a Fly Fishing Snob, I fish for beauty, and there was plenty of that today, what with the lush green of spring, the flowers, the birds, the fish and the river, but one thing that wasn’t beautiful was the flotilla of drunken rowdys that passed me towards the end of the day. The flotilla consisted of a canoe, a couple of kayaks, and many inner tubes and air mattresses. I heard them coming long before I could see them round the bend above me. When they got close, I just reeled in my line, walked to shore, and started photographing the wildflowers on the banks.

Small blue wildflowers

 It took me a while after they passed to get back into the rhythm of fishing again, but I did, and I did manage to land a few more fish before evening set in. I thought as good as the afternoon had been that things would get even better towards sunset, but just the opposite happened, the fishing slowed down to next to nothing. At least I caught fish, some jerk cut in the river just ahead of me while I was fishing, and he never landed a fish, justice prevails! I took great delight in every fish I caught from the water he had already fished through without landing a thing. I know, that’s an evil laugh you’re hearing from me, and two wrongs don’t make a right….LOL. It really wasn’t any big deal, it didn’t even bother me that much when he did cut in front of me, I knew that I was about done for the day anyway.

The other notable thing about today was how much the stretch of river I fished today has changed since last fall. A tangle of tree limbs that used to be at the head of a pool are now at the tail. A submerged sandbar has been washed away completely, leaving a deeper, rocky bottom where the sandbar used to be. A large tree fell over, and was washed around a bend, and stuck on the opposite bank, diverting water to the side of the river it came from, and turning it into water deep enough to hold fish. It is an almost completely different stretch of water than what it has been the last few years. Fish no longer hold where there always used to be fish, and there are now fish where there wasn’t enough water for them before. That’s one reason I love rivers, they’re always changing, there’s always new things to learn, new things to try.

 So overall, it doesn’t get much better than today was. There was the drunken flotilla, but that’s normal, and there was only the one. The other kayakers who passed me were friendly and courteous. Some jerk cut ahead of me, no big deal, I was about fished out anyway, and I caught fish he couldn’t, so it all worked out in the end, the end of a beautiful day of fishing.

Take a walk on the (not so) wild side

Almost everyday during the week I go for a walk around the apartment complex where I live, both for exercise, and for photography. You would think that after a couple of years of doing it, I would be running out of things to photograph, and that it would become boring, but it hasn’t. Just the opposite, I am amazed at how much I learn about nature going for the same walk everyday, and how much stuff changes, not just seasonally, but almost daily.

With today being a Saturday, normally I would be off somewhere hiking, kayaking, or fly fishing, but I spent so much time this morning finishing my previous post, that I decided just to walk around the complex today.

It started out cloudy and cool, but better than the 90 degree plus heat we had earlier in the week. I didn’t think there would be much to photograph, and as usual, I was wrong. first thing were these small flowers on bushes planted around here. I don’t know what they are, but they’re pretty.

Pink and red flowers

Then a little further on my walk, I came to one of the bridges over one of several small creeks that flow through the complex, I have gotten many good pictures from the bridges, today it was of a green damsel fly resting on a branch over the creek.

Green damsel fly

On the southwest corner of the complex is a small pond that often has various types of wildlife to photograph, such as ducks, herons, geese, turtles, and others. I approached the fence around it slowly, not wanting to spook anything there, but I didn’t see the heron hiding in the tall grass until it was too late, and he flew off before I could get a picture. No big deal, I have lots of good great blue heron pictures. Here’s an earlier picture of a great blue heron I took there at the pond.

Great blue heron

There are bluish purple wildflowers growing all around the pond, and especially climbing the fence around the pond. I noticed several bees in the flowers, so I set my camera to the macro setting hoping to get a good shot of a bee. As I’m watching the bees, I decided that between the lighting and the pattern the flowers were growing in, I wasn’t going to get the shot I wanted, so I let my eyes roam, and I see this pretty butterfly about 10 feet away. But my camera is set on macro, and by the time I set it to normal, the butterfly has taken flight. I’m standing there watching it, and it flies over to me and lands on my T-shirt with its wings spread wide open so I could see how pretty it was. Of course now my camera is set to normal, and the butterfly is on me. As I set the camera back to macro, it closed its wings, but at least it didn’t fly off.


Trust me, the other side of the wings were very pretty, but at least I got a picture out of the deal. After this shot, I was waiting for to open its wings again, and trying to turn so the light would be better if it did, and it flew off. As I am watching it flutter about, I see the white rabbit sitting in the short grass not far from me. I had seen it a few days before, it isn’t an albino, but it has white patches, and is the lightest cottontail I have ever seen. Here’s an earlier pic.

Cottontail rabbit

This evening it was sitting in much shorter grass and it would have shown up better, but of course, my camera was set to macro for the butterfly picture, and by the time I changed it back to normal, the rabbit had headed into the tall grass. I never did see it again this evening, but in looking for it, I came across a number of flowers, some wild, some not, that are just starting to bloom.

Buttercup and bee

 And there were several Dianthus blooming there.


 And another.


There were other flowers there as well that I’m not going to post here, oh, what the heck, one more.


I continued on my walk, coming to the second bridge over the creek, and I see a flock of goldfinches bathing in the creek.

American goldfinches

Not the greatest, but remember, it was very cloudy, and I had to zoom in to the 48X my camera is capable of. Here’s another after I got a little closer, but had spooked all but one away.

American Goldfinch bathing

It would have been nice if it had been really bright out and the shutter would have captured its wings instead of them being blurry like they are. On the other side of the road the brush and trees are almost completely covering the creek so you can hardly see it, but one of the bushes next to the creek is covered, and I mean covered, in white flowers. I tried to find an opening through the leaves and branches to get some kind of picture of it, 20 feet of almost solid white flowers flowing down the bush to the creek itself. It is very pretty, but no way to get a picture of it that would be worth anything.

At the third bridge, which is over a different creek, there were these flowers.

Pink swamp flowers

I don’t know what they are, I know that they were growing in the wet swampy area next to the creek, surrounded by muck, then burning nettles, and no way for me to get closer to get a good picture of them.

Oh, I forgot, on the way between the two bridges I saw a pair of chipping sparrows that I tried to get a picture of. I swear I could see most of one of them in the grass when I pressed the shutter release, but all you can see in the picture is the brown stripe on the top of its head, so I won’t bore you with that one.

But it was after the swamp flowers that I met Crash. Crash is the name I have given to a young robin that has obviously just left the nest. I must have almost stepped on him in the grass, because he took off flying from almost under my foot. He doesn’t have much experience flying either, because he flew across the parking lot, right into the back of a parked car, and landed in a heap on the ground. I was going to go over and see if I could get a close up of him, but thought better of it, I didn’t want to bother him anymore than I had already. I continued on my way around the outside of the parking lot, and came upon Crash again anyway. He ws hiding between two of the cars there, and I took a couple of photos of him.

Crash, the young robin

I guess this was too close, because he took off flying back towards where I had first seen him, and he crashed into the side of a car in the carport there. He flipped up onto the trunk of that car, in a heap, skidded around, regained his balance, and flew off into the side of the car port, landing in a heap on the ground, poor little guy. I think that he had enough of flying for one day, because he hopped his way over towards the trees next to the car port, where he probably started from in the first place. I hope he makes it to adulthood.

That’s about it for the day, except just about the time I was finishing my walk, the clouds started to break up, and the sun came out.

Blue sky, white clouds

It’s about two miles around the outside of the apartment complex, and I walk it nearly every day, and yet, I still am able to take dozens of pictures here a week. Some seasons are slower than others for photography, but I never know what I’ll see. Two years ago I saw eagles circling overhead. One night this week I had to stop on my way home from work to avoid a young coyote running through the parking lot. Nature is where you find it, and I’m glad that I find it here, for it makes living in an apartment tolerable. Living here and walking here have taught me to always carry my camera with me whenever I am outside. I am also happy to see that wildlife has made such a miraculous recovery since the time I was a kid that there is now the amount and diversity of wildlife that there is in suburban Michigan.

When I was a kid, there were no nesting eagles in the lower peninsula. Seeing a Canadian Goose was rare other than when they were migrating. Seeing Great Blue herons was a once or twice a summer event, now it’s nearly everyday. I just hope the younger generations never take these things for granted, for it can all disappear in a very short time, less than a generation, and it takes several generations to heal again.

Round Lake Campground to stay open and other news

To begin with, lots of good news lately, I am going to be selfish and start with one that affects me the most, Round Lake State Forest Campground and the other 22 that were scheduled to close are all going to remain open! Michigan was going to close 23 “underperforming” rustic campgrounds, that isn’t going to happen now. I’m thrilled about that, since I thought that when I took my vacation in the Pigeon River Country last month that it would be my last stay at Round Lake. Round Lake is one of the prettiest campgrounds you’ll ever see, it would have been a shame for it to close.

Round Lake State Forest Campground

In other news, there was a forest fire just south of Goose Creek State Forest Campground this week. That is on the upper Manistee River just a few miles west of Grayling, Michigan. Goose Creek is another of my favorite campgrounds, it is actually three campgrounds in one. There is a small state forest campground, a large equestrian area, then a small and very beautiful camping area set aside for kayakers and canoeists. According to the news reports, the fire started on the west side of the Manistee, jumped the river, and burned its way to the northeast. The firefighters were able to contain the fire to around 800 acres or so, between M 72 and CR 612, and along Manistee River Road. I wonder if it has changed the river at all, that is one of the premier areas for fly fishing as far as I am concerned. I love that stretch of river, lots of fish, easy to wade, and very picturesque. I may have to change my plans for the summer around to fit a weekend there into my schedule just to see it for myself.

A little side note about Goose Creek State Forest Campground. When I was the organizer for the large kayaking group, I scheduled one of our outings on the Manistee, planning for us to stay at the small area reserved for river users in the campground overnight. To be sure that was OK and that we didn’t need to make reservations, I called the DNR field office in Grayling to check. The people there had no idea what I was talking about, they didn’t know that there was the small campground there for kayakers and canoeists, they had to research it, and call me back later. The reason I knew it existed was that I had found a very old, very weathered sign about it on the river. There is nothing to denote it from the side people normally see when they drive into the main campground. Maybe I should have kept it my little secret.

In more good news, the state has budgeted 6 million dollars to continue the clean up of the old Zephyr Oil refinery site near Muskegon. You can read a news article about it here. The problem there is contaminated ground water from oil, gasoline, and other petroleum products that leached into the ground. The Michigan DEQ had shut down around half the wells that were pumping the contaminated water out, and was threatening to completely shut down all cleanup operations there because of a lack of funding. That would have been very bad. The site is between the Muskegon river to the south, Bear Creek to the north, and Muskegon Lake to the west. Of course both the Muskegon River and Bear Creek flow into Muskegon Lake, and eventually, Lake Michigan. With the new budget, not only will the pumping of contaminated ground water continue, but there are also plans being drawn up to remove the contaminated soil as well, and fix the problem once and for all. In fact, this isn’t good news, it is fantastic news!

Also announced this spring is a $12 million cleanup for Muskegon Lake itself, removing tons of contaminated sludge from the lake bottom, and restoring shoreline habitat.

I know the Muskegon area isn’t thought of as an outdoorsman’s paradise, since it is an industrial area, or at least used to be. I am sorry for all the people who have lost their jobs as company after company has closed, but it could turn out for the best. The industries that have closed down were not exactly environmentally friendly, from this old refinery to the paper mill that closed a couple of years ago. The Muskegon area has the potential to rebound from over a century of being used as a dumping ground for all kinds of things we shouldn’t have dumped there, but we didn’t know any better back then. We do now, or at least I hope we do. It will take some time, but the area’s economy will rebound, and the quality of life will be so much better for every one once we do get the area cleaned up. Not only that, but cleaning up the mess we made in the past will make it easier to attract new industries to the area to help grow the economy again.

The Muskegon River is Michigan’s second longest river, after the Grand. It starts near Houghton Lake in an area of large marshes and flows southwest to Muskegon Lake. It is completely different from the Grand in character, the Muskegon is classified as a cool waters river. I could go on at length about why it is important to clean up the river and Muskegon Lake, but I won’t. I will just say that cleaning up the old Zephyr refinery is another very good step in repairing the damage we have done. That goes right along with another recent story, a group is surveying the lower Muskegon River area and hopes to restore the Maple River.

 The Maple River was diverted more than a century ago to add more flow to the Muskegon River to make it easier to float logs down the Muskegon to the sawmills in Muskegon. It is nothing more than a stagnant slough now. Restoring the Maple will be a good thing.

All this leads me to another point. I try to keep politics out of this blog as much as I can, but I have to tell you, our new governor, Rick Snyder, is impressing the heck out of me! I know he has a lot of people up in arms to the point they are trying to recall him already, but he gets things done whether you like what he does or not. It’s still early in his term, but from what I can see, he may be the best friend to the environment this state has seen as governor since Bill Milliken.

Our last Governor, Jennifer Granholm, received high marks from the media and the so-called environmental leaders, mostly because she mandated “green” energy sources, such as wind, solar and bio-mass. I don’t think any of the alternative energy sources are all that environmentally friendly, in fact, in many cases they are a step backwards. Under her mandate, we now have 6 so-called bio-mass electrical generating plants that are nothing more than wood fired generating plants. That’s right, saw down our forests to burn the trees to produce electricity, that’s not environmentally friendly to me. At least a couple of these plants are lobbying for more permits to log more land, as they can’t get enough wood to keep the plants in operation. Do we really want to log off the entire state again as we did in the late 1800’s? I think not!

Building solar farms in Michigan makes about as much sense as trying to build igloos in the desert, it doesn’t work. Because of the Great Lakes, we are one of the cloudiest regions of the country, and besides, solar farms only produce 50% of the time, you get nothing from then at all at night. I don’t want to see vast amounts of land cleared to build solar farms that don’t work. There was another news story about one here in Michigan just a few weeks ago. Despite the fact that the utility company has to pay the operators of the solar farm 10 times the going rate for electricity, the operators can not produce enough electricity to pay their property tax bill. And we’re going to pay to build more? I hope not!

 Then there’s wind. Another winner, not. There are proposals to build hundreds of wind turbines in and/or near Lake Michigan. In the first place, as other countries are learning, wind turbines are very inefficient and never produce the output that is claimed for them. I don’t want to see those ugly monstrosities out in Lake Michigan, any more than I want to see oil derricks out there. The environmentalists don’t want to see oil derricks either, but they seem to be OK with wind turbines, which are just as ugly as oil derricks. I have yet to see the problem of ice in the lake addressed at all in any of these proposed wind farms in the lakes. There’s too much not to like about them to put it all in this post now, so I will leave it for now.

Proponents of solar and wind energies claim they will reduce our reliance on coal-fired power plants, but the truth is that they won’t, not one iota. Neither wind or solar are reliable, steady sources of power that we can depend on to deliver when energy is needed, so the coal-fired plants have to remain online all the time anyway. Think about it, the sun only shines during the day, it is at night that we need the electricity to light our homes. Winds are usually light to calm at night as well. For an alternative energy source to be feasible, it needs to be able to operate and produce on demand, not just every once in a while when conditions are right.

I am not opposed to alternative energies that work, and are truly green. For example, they are building a bio-digestion plant in Fremont that will take waste food from the Gerber Baby Food plant and other sources, extract the methane for fuel, and what’s left afterwards will be used as fertilizer by area farmers. Now that makes sense. The methane can be stored and used on demand, and is much cleaner than coal.

I am all for ending all coal mining, if we can. There is no such thing as clean coal, burning it pollutes the air no matter how many scrubbers are installed on the stacks. And, coal mining is one of the worst things that we still do to the environment. Chewing up entire mountains and reducing them to nothing more than a pile of rubble can’t end soon enough for me, when we come up with a viable alternative. Spending billions of dollars to build wind and solar farms that don’t work makes no sense, as we will have to live with their legacy for years to come, and pay to remove them when it becomes clear to every one what a boondoggle they are now. That money would be better spent either perfecting the technology behind them, or, developing other sources of energy that will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Building boondoggles now will make it that much tougher to build power plants that do make sense later on when they are developed because every one will remember how much money was thrown down the drain building the boondoggles.

Getting back to Jennifer Granholm, under her administration there was ever enough money to do the cleanups that need to be done. Her administration was going to shut down the cleanup of the Zephyr oil refiner due to a lack of money. Not only that, but her administration seemed to be willing to destroy this state’s natural resources in order to get more money coming into the treasury. There was the infamous Merit Energy deal, where her administration was not only going to permit Merit Energy to dump questionably treated water into Kolke Creek, the headwaters of the Au Sable, they were going to let Merit Energy destroy the creek by doubling its flow, and awarded Merit Energy a special easement to do so.

 Her administration also issued permits to allow logging in the Mason Tract, among other places. In fact, her administration seemed intent on logging off the entire state again, just to get the money from the permits required. I’m done bashing her now, she’s gone, hopefully never to return.

On the other hand, Gov. Snyder impressed me before he even took the oath of office by announcing Rodney Stokes to take over the Michigan DNR. If you’re not familiar with his name, Mr. Stoke’s background is in parks and recreation, and he is not a political person. He stands up for what’s right, and is willing to take a tough stand when needed, a great choice to head the DNR. Now if Gov. Snyder really wanted to impress me, he would undo the executive order signed by his predecessor and return the appointment of the Director of the DNR to the Natural Resources Commission like it was before Ms. Granholm made one of her many power grabs.

Gov. Snyder also named Dennis Muchmore, the former director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, as his chief of staff, that tells you something about where the guy’s head is at.

Since Gov. Snyder took office, I have read more and more stories about funding being found to do the cleanup work that had been put on the back burner for way too long. I have included a few here, but there have been many more that I have read from around the state as well. I guess that’s not surprising, since he was a member of the board of trustees of the Michigan Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. I may have issues with the way the Nature Conservancy is run and their priorities, but I still believe it is one of the better environmental groups that there is.

Not all those cleanups are being done with state funds alone, many rely on Federal dollars for the majority of the funding, but the state had to come up with its “share” of the funding in order to receive the Federal dollars, and Gov. Snyder and his team are finding the funds to get these cleanups started.

And if you think I am a Republican shill, think again. I would love to take Rep. Dave Agema back behind the woodshed and teach him a lesson or two about the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. In case you haven’t heard, this idiot wants to raid the NRTF for other purposes than what it was constitutionally protected to do, which is to fund parks, boat launches, natural areas and state parks. Then’s there’s the backdoor approach being used by state Sen. Tom Casperson of Escanaba, who wants to limit the amount of land the state can own, as I posted about before.

In case you’re not familiar with what the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund is, this is from the Michigan DNR website.

What is the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF)? 
The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) began as the “Kammer Recreational Land Trust Fund Act of 1976” via P.A. 204 of 1976. Act 204 created the Michigan Land Trust Fund (MLTF) program to provide a source of funding for the public acquisition of lands for resource protection and public outdoor recreation. Funding was derived from royalties on the sale and lease of State-owned mineral rights.
 On November 6, 1984, Michigan residents voted in favor of Proposal B, which amended the State Constitution and created the MNRTF. The constitutional amendment required that oil, gas, and other mineral lease and royalty payments be placed into the Trust Fund, with proceeds used to both acquire and develop public recreation lands.

The MNRTF is currently capped at 500 million dollars, if more money than that is taken in, then the next $200 million is to be spent on our state parks. The MNRTF is one of the best things to ever happen to this state, but when you put a pile of money in front of a politician, they will try to find a way to spend it on their own pet projects.

There have been proposals to raid the fund in the past, and fortunately, the voters in Michigan have had enough sense to vote them down, let’s hope that continues. Because the trust fund is constitutionally protected, any change to the way the funds are used has to be approved by the voters.

You know, maybe I spend too much time reading the news. Maybe not, for if one doesn’t know what’s going on, then one can not make an informed decision, and I prefer informed decisions rather than knee jerk gut reactions.

So I will continue to read the news, real news that is, not the fluff and celebrity gossip that passes for news these days. I will continue to monitor what our new governor is doing, as well as the legislature, the DNR, the DEQ, and the Natural Resources Communion, and I will continue to make informed decisions, I hope those that read this will as well. As of right now, I give Gov. Snyder two thumbs up, the legislature two thumbs down (even though they passed the budget that is providing the funding for all the environmental cleanups I’ve been reading about. It was Gov. Snyder’s budget, and I don’t think the legislature would have funded those projects otherwise), the DNR two thumbs up, the DEQ two thumbs up, and the NRC, one thumb up (They voted to allow deer baiting again, which I disagree with).

What happened to spring?

I just got back from my daily walk, and I am soaked. No, it isn’t raining, there’s bright blue skies and light winds, but it is very hot already this morning. The high temperature yesterday was close to 90 degrees, and we are forecast to be in the 90’s the next two days.

It was just two weekends ago when I was at Muskegon and it was in the low 60’s, with a cold fog. Also that weekend, Mike and I went kayaking, and it was cool and cloudy that day as well. We have had a very cool, very rainy spring, until June, and now we are having a summertime heat wave. I don’t do well in the heat no matter what, but to jump from 60 to 90 in a day or two is even worse. As Mark Twain said, “Every one complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it”. I’m not complaining about it too much, there’s nothing you can do but to dress accordingly and plan for what the weather will be. It would have been nice to have a week or two of weather with temperatures in the 70’s before the heat rolled in though.

The weather and the season do play a huge part in my plans for my outdoor adventures. I love spring, it is my favorite season! With the weather that we’ve had, it has taken a while, but the trees, bushes and grasses are all growing strong in the thick, vivid, green of spring, and I truly love that. It does make photography more difficult though. I hear birds singing, but it is hard to see them in the trees now, unlike a few weeks ago when there weren’t any leaves yet. The same holds true of mammals, it’s a lot easier for them to hide in the summer. Even when I do see them, it is harder to get a good photo when they are in the shade. Just this last weekend I was hiking through the Cooper Creek/Spencer Forest County parks, and while I saw some birds and animals close enough to photograph, the shade was so deep that I doubted if the subjects would even be visible in a photo.

 But, while some things become harder to photograph, other subjects emerge to fill in the void, such as flowers and insects.

Damsel fly

I know, insects aren’t every one’s favorite subject for a photo, so here’s a flower.


Although if you look closely, there’s a spider in the flower.

I would like to be doing more kayaking now that summer has arrived, but it looks like I’ll be doing either more hiking, or kayaking lakes and large rivers by myself this year. I have been trying to put kayaking trips together, very few people in the group even bother to reply, and even fewer can make it when I do plan something. Then there are issues as far as transportation and the spotting of vehicles. It is getting very frustrating. A couple of years ago I was organizing a group of close to 200 paddlers, and we would have 20 to 30 people show up each trip. That became a problem as far as finding access sites that could accommodate that many vehicles and boats. It would be nice to hit a happy medium, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

I don’t mind paddling by myself, I don’t even mind paddling lakes and large rivers, but then, I would rather start at dawn, and that’s hard to do since I work second shift. I haven’t won the lottery yet, so I’m still a working stiff. Evenings are OK, as long as I can find places where I’m not getting run over by power boats. I love dawns, the quiet, the wildlife, the start of a new day.

Since it looks like I won’t be kayaking again this weekend, it will give me a chance to do some fly fishing. Darn!  I’ll have to see what the weather is like the rest of this week before I decide where, and then there are the gas prices as well. I think I need a trip to the Pere Marquette. If that doesn’t pan out, I’ll be on the Rogue for sure.

I’m still working on the photography pages, a little at a time. It seems like there is something that comes up when I think I will have time to work on them that limits how much I am able to write. problems at work, or my mother’s health, or something out of the blue. Two weeks ago it was having to do a random DOT drug test for work, that my boss had forgotten about until after it was due. Last week, it was the staff at the apartment complex trying to tell me I was late with last months rent, when I wasn’t. Both of those things took a while to resolve, and took time away from my work here. The heat wave doesn’t help either. It takes me more time at work to finish my run each night, and more time to cool off after work, and after my morning walk.

I’ll keep plugging away at it, it may take me a while to finish the project, but I will eventually finish it.

Preserving for the future

I read an article online at about a state senator who wants to cap the amount of land the State of Michigan can own. The gist of it is that local units of government are suffering because the state doesn’t pay property taxes like a private entity does, and therefore, state ownership of land is hurting local units of government. I understand the problem, but the solution is not to cap the amount of land the state owns. For the article, click here.

Here is my reply.

I am opposed to any cap on the amount of land the state owns for many reasons. First, I think that a cap is a backdoor way of eventually raiding, and possibly ending, the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. If state ownership of land is capped, then there is no reason for the trust fund to exist any more, and politicians would love to get their hands on the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to use for purposes other than what the citizens of Michigan intended it to be used for.

I understand the plight of communities surrounded by state land as far as the reduced funding because of the state’s lower payments in lieu of property taxes. However, does Sen. Tom Casperson believe that there are buyers waiting to purchase any of the state’s land holdings? Wishing something doesn’t make it happen. In fact, what we’ve seen over the last 30 plus years is just the opposite, owners of large parcels of land in Michigan have been selling, even at very reduced prices, or donating their land holdings, to the state to get out from under the property tax burden here in Michigan. I don’t think that Sen. Casperson or David Bertram, legislative team leader for the Michigan Townships Association, would be too happy if the state were to try and sell off some of its land holdings. With property values already depressed, if the state were to put even more land on the market, prices, and assessed values would plummet even further, and local governments would be no better of financially than they are now.

That’s what a cap on the amount of land the state can own would do, because as pointed out in the article, the state owns very little land in the lower third of the lower peninsula, where we need more recreational opportunities, not less. A cap would force the state to try and sell off some of its existing land holdings in order to purchase more land close to the population centers where state ownership of land is lower. It makes sense for the state to develop more recreational opportunities down state, so that the citizens of Michigan don’t have to drive “up north” to enjoy our great state. 

Mr. Bertram complained that “Michigan owns more land than any other state east of the Mississippi”, which is what makes us the envy of all the other states east of the Mississippi. That’s why every weekend we see droves of cars with license plates from Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and other states heading into Michigan. That’s why I choose to live in Michigan rather than any other state east of the Mississippi, as do many others in this state.

At a time when the state is pouring millions of dollars into the “Pure Michigan” ad campaigns every year, this is no time to cap the amount of land the state owns. The money spent on those ads will be money poured down the drain if people from out of state get here to find the campgrounds full, the beaches crowded, and the woods so full of people that the visitors never want to return. Tourism can play a huge role in turning our state’s economy around, as we are finally starting to learn. But tourism won’t continue to grow if we don’t continue to grow our recreational opportunities for the visitors we seek to attract.

Capping the amount of land the state owns is a shortsighted attempt to solve a funding problem that probably won’t work even if it is tried, for reasons I pointed out earlier. Instead of capping the state’s land ownership, we should be increasing the amount of land the state owns. It is the second best investment we can make, after education, in the lives’ of our children, grand children, and beyond.

Michigan is a unique state, two peninsulas surrounded by the Great Lakes, with vast tracts of forests, and clean, free flowing rivers. We have some of the world’s finest beaches, rocky coastlines, and we have some of just about everything natural that people could want. We have the choice to preserve our state as an oasis of nature in the middle of an industrialized world, or destroy what nature has given us. We owe it to our children and our children’s children to preserve what we have. We owe it to the world as well.

There were people who complained when our Nation Park system was created, and those who continue to complain to this day. However, I think history has proven the complainers to be wrong. Yellowstone National Park wasn’t just the first National Park in the United States, it was the first National Park in the world. We started something which is now called “America’s best idea”, preserving natural areas for future generations. We were the leaders in something that the rest of the world is still trying to catch up to us in doing.

Michigan has always been a leader in preserving our natural areas, this is not the time to change that. Our system of parks and recreational areas is one of the finest in the country. Looking forward with a vision towards the future, we should expand on that even as the rest of the country continues to industrialize. That will make Michigan an oasis of nature that millions of people from neighboring states and even the from around the world, will want to come to in order to enjoy what we can offer that no other state can. People two hundred years from now may not know who we were, but they will thank us for having the foresight to preserve the natural areas in this state. The time to do that is now.

Surprise, surprise, surprise, I didn’t win.

Today Trout Unlimited announced the winners of the photo contest they ran, and needless to say, I wasn’t one of the winners. It really isn’t surprising, I knew I was at a disadvantage when I entered my photos. I live in Michigan, and while it is a very beautiful state, we don’t have mountains here to add that dramatic background to any photos taken here the way they do in the Rockies or even the Appalachians. Nearly all the winners and honorable mentions were photos taken in the mountains, I can understand that. There was another group that all included kids in the pictures, I guess I can understand that as well, people love kiddies. That one leaves me out too, as I never had any children.

What surprised me the most was that it was quite obvious that most of the pictures had been tweaked considerably using computer software to enhance the colors and contrast in the winning photos. I suppose that it shouldn’t surprise me either. After all, Ansel Adams set the standards for landscape photography, and he used a number of tricks to improve on mother nature, most notably, a Wratten #25 red filter to increase contrast. But that was with early black and white film. While his photos are very dramatic, it is my opinion that they were rather easy to take since they were shot on black and white film. It is much more difficult to achieve superlative pictures of landscapes in color than it is black and white. Which explains why so many of the winners of not just Trout Unlimited’s contest, but most nature photo contests are digitally enhanced for color. That one leaves me out also, for I am a stubborn cuss, I refuse to alter my pictures from what I am able to capture on my cameras.

I know I am in the minority on that, photographers have always used a number of tricks in their darkrooms to produce a higher quality print than the negative would have produced without those tricks. With today’s software, people have even more tricks at their disposal to make even average shots look like contest winners.

In my opinion, nature is beautiful enough on its own that we shouldn’t have to resort to image manipulation in order to make it look good in our prints. I don’t think most photo contests are really photo contests, they are image manipulation contests.

For the record, the pictures that were picked as winners in the Trout Unlimited contest weren’t altered very much, just tweaked a bit. Not like the winners in some of the other nature photo contests that I have seen where the winning photo looks like nothing you actually see in nature. The photos that did win the TU contest are very, very good, and I am not saying they didn’t deserve to win, but I thought I had a real shot at getting at least an honorable mention. I do think that two of the pictures I submitted are better than similar photos chosen by the judges, but that’s an honest difference of opinion.

By picking winners that have been manipulated in the darkroom or on a computer, the judges of these contests are overlooking how hard it is to put yourself in the right place at the right time to get the best true rendition of what nature actually looks like, and instead, the kudos go to experts in photo manipulation, not necessarily expert photographers.

Granted, many expert photographers are also expert at photo manipulation. But, if the contest is a nature photo contest, shouldn’t the winners be natural nature, not the best output from computer software? Shouldn’t such contests be called computer output contests and not photo contests?

You may blame some of my rant on sour grapes on my part because I didn’t win, and I suppose some of that is motivating me, but I have felt this way about nature photography since I began taking pictures with an old Kodak Instamatic camera back in the 60’s. As far as I’m concerned, nearly any one can take a so-so picture and turn it into a dramatic picture by manipulating the image, but the real skill is taking a picture so good that it doesn’t need to be manipulated in the first place.

But then, I have a lot of funny ideas when it comes to nature photography anyway. I don’t think it is true nature photography when you bait animals to come into an area where you have the equivalent of a photo studio set up ready for the animal to make an appearance when it comes to the bait. But that’s the way many nature photographers get the pictures they do. To me, that’s taking the easy way out. It’s a lot harder to stalk an animal and catch it in action than it is to bait it in. But, that’s just my opinion, and that doesn’t count for much.

If you read the how-to books and magazines on photography, you may have to read between the lines, but you will learn the following.

It is hard to take truly great color shots in any medium due to the narrow exposure latitude for color. Black and white photography is much easier, there is a much wider exposure latitude in black and white mediums. It is much harder to manipulate and/or add effects to color images than it is black and white images. It is easier to print black and white pictures on an alternative media than it is with color.

So you go to a gallery where they are holding a photo contest, and there are two prints side by side. One is a straight up color print taken by a photographer who was in the right place at the right time to take a perfectly exposed picture of a beautiful landscape capturing every nuance of color and lighting nature has to offer. Print 2 started as an above average but nothing special black and white negative that the photographer digitized, added a couple of canned effects from computer software, and printed as a sepia print. And the winner is….print 2, gimmicks always seem to win.

If you talk to the judges, they picked print 2 because print 1 is just a snapshot, an excellent one, but just a snapshot, and any one can do that, or at least that’s what they say. Wrong! By the experts’ own words it is harder to take a perfect color picture than it is to gimmick up a black and white picture. Print 1 required much more skill on the part of the photographer, and probably more work to capture than print 2. Print 2 involved more work after the photographer actually took the picture, but adding the gimmicks doesn’t take all that much skill. Those gimmicks were created to turn so-so or even bad photographs into something worth looking at, yet the gimmicks win. At least that’s the way I see it.

Not only that, but the winning print seldom looks like anything you see in nature, while print 1 is an excellent representation of the beauty of nature. It’s beyond me.

Enough of that rant, at least for now. In other news, Lake Michigan rose another inch last week alone, that’s a lot of water! The first half of the year has been the third wettest on record here, while Lansing, just east of here, did set a record for the most precipitation so far. That and the above average cloud cover has meant less evaporation, so the rivers, lakes, and especially the Great Lakes are returning to their normal levels. It will be great for kayaking, and eventually for fly fishing. I say eventually, because the rivers just start to go down a little, the water clears up, we get another 2 inches of rain in three days, and the rivers are right back up to the tops of the banks, and too muddy for fishing. Every time I go to check the weather, there is a list of rivers with flood advisories, watches, and warnings.

 All the rain and clouds, not to mention the wind that goes with them, has been interfering with my photography to some degree as well. In the long run though it is a good thing, so I won’t complain too much. Having enough water to paddle in will be a good thing, not like when I tried to paddle up Green Creek and the water was so shallow I couldn’t make it.

In the meantime, here’s a recent photo of goslings in the grass.

Goslings in the grass

 Needless to say that mom and dad were keeping a close eye on them, and me. It’s kind of surprising, I haven’t been attacked this year by anything other than a swallow….so far. I try not to get so close as to bother animals and their young any more than I have to in order to get a good picture. If the adults, or the young for that matter, seem to be getting agitated, I back off until they know I mean them no harm. With the geese from the picture, when I first approached the they began to move towards the water, so I stopped, and waited for a few minutes. They turned around and actually came back towards me when they saw I wasn’t going to chase them, and as you can see, the young laid back down to resume their nap that I had interrupted. The adults were still on guard, but they didn’t give off any of the warning signs that they were about to attack.

When I was attacked by the swallow, it was an accident. I walk the same route around the apartment complex everyday, and I pass by the carports here. On the day the swallows came after me, it was raining, and I ducked under one of the carports to avoid the rain, but I didn’t know the swallows had a nest in the carport. Being by the carport had been OK, but stepping under it was getting too close for them. Now I know, and give them a wide berth.

Sometimes it just happens, especially when kayaking or canoeing. Swans in particular will attack when you get too close to their nest or young, but you may not have any other choice. It all depends on how territorial the adults are, there may not be enough room for you to avoid their wrath. In that case, you paddle as fast as you can and hope that they don’t get close enough to bite you, or beat on you with their wings, either of which can be painful.