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

Archive for October, 2011

That was interesting

I was feeling down in the dumps earlier, even had a post started on how I was feeling, but as usual, a good long hike in the woods changed all that. The one part of the draft I have started that the public will see is a list of some of the other blogs I read on a regular basis, like Bob Zeller’s Texas Tweeties and the photos he posts of the Big Bend Country. Emily Gooch’s blog from the Pacific northwest. Galen Leeds blog from the San Francisco Bay area. Rebecca’s Rebecca in the Woods blog from Wisconsin. I can’t forget Kathy’s Lake Superior Spirit blog that has me yearning for a trip to the Keweenaw Peninsula, I haven’t been there in years. I think the rest of the post will remain hidden, for my eyes only.

The weather wasn’t the greatest for photography, I thought, shows how wrong I can be. There were light showers moving through the area, nothing like the rain that’s falling right now, but sprinkles now and then. The sun popped out for a minute, and this is what I saw.

Right place at the right time

There had been enough rain to wet the leaves, and when the evening sun hit them, they practically glowed!

Then there was this shot taken of a pond as the sprinkles of rain fell.

Sprinkles on the pond

More leaves.

Wet leaves in the sun

And this one.

The yellow tunnel

My mood was improving dramatically, the woods were beautiful today, but the woods were in a county park near where I live, not the back country wilderness I was really wanting to be hiking in.

I was watching a few birds, mostly chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, and woodpeckers, oh yea, and a lot of robins. There was a spot where the trees were full of robins waiting their turn to bathe in a very small stream. Two or three at a time would be in the stream taking a bath, with the ones that had just finished their bath perched in the trees preening, and others still waiting their turn. That was kind of cool.

I was about half way done as far as distance, and I hadn’t seen any deer yet. I decided it was still a bit early for them perhaps, so I sat down on a fallen tree to take a break. I hadn’t been sitting for long when I heard the siren from a fire truck in the distance. Great, just what I need to remind me that I’m not really where I want to be right now is what I was thinking.

As I listened to the siren, I thought I heard a second siren, no, yes, no, it isn’t a siren, it is a coyote sounding like a siren. Then another, and another, and then still more. Then almost all at once, they broke into the full howl every one is familiar with. I didn’t get a count of how many there were, it sounded like around a dozen of them. I knew there were coyotes around here, I once watched from my living room window as one made an unsuccessful attempt to catch a turkey. I’ve never heard them howling around here, out west, yes, and up north, yes, but not here. And I have never heard them trying to sound like a fire truck siren before either.

So much for feeling bummed out about hiking around home, the hunter instinct kicked in, and I was off to find the coyotes if I could. From their howling, I knew they were on the other side of a marsh from me, in the area I normally see a lot of deer. I set out even slower than normal, eyes peeled to the marsh, but I never did spot one of the coyotes. There were a few times I saw the grass and reeds moving, but I was never sure if it was the wind, a coyote, or some other critter causing the vegetation to move.

I was still hunting my way around the marsh. As I described in an earlier post, still hunting is where you take a few steps, stop, look, listen, then take a few more steps. I had just stopped when I saw a nice whitetail buck come up out of the marsh headed straight for me. I thought that was really strange since the coyotes had to have been very close to where the deer and I were, and deer hate members of the canine family even more than they hate humans. OK, so deer don’t hate, they are even more wary of members of the canine family than they are of humans. Anyway, the buck stopped behind some brush, as they always do, but I thought I had this one for sure. It had been walking straight towards me, I never moved, and I had the wind blowing in my face, which meant there was no way the buck was going to catch my scent.

We stood there watching each other for probably ten minutes. I would see the buck looking around, but most of the time it was looking in my direction, I was as hidden from him as he was hidden from me, and I didn’t even twitch. I don’t know what gave me away, or if anything did, but eventually the buck turned and trotted back into the marsh the way it had come out.

A few more steps and this little doe came over the hill at me.

Whitetail doe

Followed by her mother.

Whitetail doe

I played with them for a while, making sure I didn’t spook them off, I was still hoping the buck would return, but it never did.

I ran into a few more deer, like these, sorry I cut one in half, but I wanted to get as much of the yellow leaves in the frame as I could, and the doe to the left took a step as I was shooting.

Whitetail doe

Then there was this one, part of a small herd.

Whitetail doe

And there were these very vibrantly colored bushes on my path.

Autumn leaves

Then I spotted the big buck from a couple of weeks ago.

Whitetail buck

He’s one of the bucks engaged in the shoving match that I got a photo of. I’m not sure if I posted it here, I’d better check. I did, but I’ll repost it here for you.

Whitetail bucks sparring last weekend

Here’s another shot of him from today.

Whitetail buck

I said that the shoving match last week was just a warm up for the real battles during the rut, must be the rut is about to start. The reason the buck looks like he does is that a fork horn had the audacity to step out of the woods in this bigger buck’s territory.

It’s a good thing I snapped the shutter when I did, because a split second and a loud snort later the buck was on his way after the fork horn. I don’t know how many readers have seen one of the male hoofed animals like a deer or an elk go into battle, but they don’t run, they don’t trot, and it isn’t really what I would call prancing either, but it is a very fun to watch gait. It looks as if they are throwing their front legs out in front of them as they move at a very fast walk.

I hadn’t seen the fork horn until the bigger buck went after it, but the fork horn knew the big guy was on his way. The fork horn took off running, trying to do a big loop around the bigger buck, who was having none of that stuff. He was on a mission, you could tell that from a mile away. The fork horn saw that the big buck was trying to cut him off, so the fork horn went from a whitetail’s regular running speed to the flat-out dead run that deer seldom use. When their belly is about two inches off the ground while they’re running, you know they’re going flat-out. The big guy fell in right behind the fork horn and kicked it up to full tilt as well, I guess he wanted a fight. The fork horn cut into the marsh with the big guy right on its tail, and that was the last I saw of them as they went crashing through the brush.

It was so much fun to watch that the thought of taking a picture never entered my mind, they wouldn’t have turned out any way as fast as the bucks were moving and as low as the light was.

So it was a very interesting day, hearing coyotes trying to imitate a fire truck siren, and watching the two bucks do their thing.

I still feel the need to get away from here for a while, but we have the long four-day Thanksgiving weekend coming up, so I better save up for that and plan a trip for then.

Thanks for stopping by!


Weekly Photo Challenge: Hidden

This week’s subject is hidden, and I couldn’t think of a better photo than this one.

Drunken raccoon

It is a raccoon that had been feeding on the fermented grapes growing in the area, and the raccoon had crawled into the hollow tree to sleep it off.

I am going to cheat and post two photos, as the raccoon woke up as I was photographing it, and rewarded me with this shot.

Raccoon

Thanks for stopping by.


It’s been a bad week

In some respects that is, in other ways, it has been a good week. My new Internet service is so much faster than the old Verizon wireless “broadband” that I used to have, so far I am more than pleased! I have now have Bloom Broadband, and it flies, at least ten times as fast as Verizon, and cheaper too.

The weather has been up and down around here. One day I wear nothing but a heavy long sleeve T-shirt, the next day I’m wearing a winter parka to ward off the wind and rain. Most of the time it has been cloudy, I took some photos today around noon, and the exposure settings were 1/40 of a second at F/4, and that was out in the open, not in the woods. Needless to say, I have been using the flash a lot for about everything.

The critters have been driving me crazy, either they won’t sit still, or they won’t move.

I have been trying to get some good photos of some of the smaller birds around here, and trying a new technique. That is, just keep shooting rather than trying to catch them sitting still. If you have ever tried to photograph a small bird like a chickadee, you know that they are perpetual motion machines, they never sit still for very long. Back in the old days of film, it made no sense to waste an entire roll of film hoping that you would catch a bird sitting still, you waited and hoped that it would pause long enough for a shot. Since digital photos cost nothing, when I see one of the small birds close enough for a photo now, I start clicking the shutter about as rapidly as I can, then delete all the blurry ones from when the bird was moving. It does take some time to sort through the photos as I end up with many like this one.

Black capped chickadee

But then, I do get a few like this.

Black capped chickadee

Or this one of a downy woodpecker.

Downy woodpecker

I’m sure that other people have figured this out before, it is a lot less frustrating to shoot a bunch of photos and get a couple good ones than it is to chase the little buggers through the woods trying to time when they are going to sit still for a split second 😉

I have been testing it on larger animals as well, that lead to this interesting little series. I was all set to photograph a small whitetail deer….

Whitetail deer

when the larger one in the foreground barged into the frame, startling the smaller one, which caused it to move enough to make the photo look out of focus. But, the next quick shot shows the small deer in the background in focus as I intended.

Whitetail deer

Then the auto-focus picked up the deer in the foreground…

Whitetail deer

This was one of the times the critters wouldn’t move when I wanted them to. There was a small herd of deer pinning me in to a spot I didn’t want to be in.

Whitetail deer

The deer kept milling around back and forth in front of me.

Whitetail deer

I didn’t want to be in the spot that I was as the light was too poor for a good shot of them, and there were even more around, so I didn’t want to frighten these and spook the others too. They finally moved off after about 15 minutes, and by then it was getting so dark that any photo would be an iffy one.

With the deer gone, I moved off and saw a small flock of wood ducks land in a small pond not far from me. There is an even smaller cove in the pond, which is where the ducks went. The cove is surrounded by large pines, so I thought it would be my chance to sneak up on the ducks, wrong. One of the ducks swam out of the cove enough to catch a glimpse of me through a tiny opening between the pine boughs. I froze, but too late. All birds seem to have incredibly good eyesight, and wood ducks must have some of the best among birds. That duck was off in a flash, and not the flash unit of my camera either, it was way too far away for that. Of course the rest of the flock followed the first one, so much for that idea. I should get to the pond earlier some evening and sit in the pines and wait for the ducks, that’s the third time I’ve seen them there. Maybe next weekend.

By then it was really dark, but I couldn’t pass up this shot.

Whitetail bucks sparring

The two bucks were pushing each other a little, a sparring match for the true battles they will have in a few weeks when the rut begins. I was hoping for a few more shots like that, but they back away from each other a short way, then went back to feeding again.

On one of the few sunny days, I did get a few shots like these.

Fall foliage

You can see that all the wind we’ve had has stripped many of the leaves off from the trees.

Fall foliage

On a more typical day, I was chasing some of the small birds around a stand of pines, never getting a shot of any of the birds, when  noticed an orange butterfly land near me. It was the first butterfly I have seen in a couple of weeks with the weather the way that it’s been. I moved to get closer to the butterfly, and spooked a small herd of deer on the edge of the woods near the pines I was in. No birds, no butterfly, no deer.

There are times I think wildlife does that on purpose, use decoys to confuse us. If I hadn’t been watching the birds, I probably would have noticed the butterfly sooner, and if I hadn’t been intent on the butterfly, I may have seen the deer before they saw me.

I did see the drunken raccoon again.

Drunken raccoon sleeping off its drunk

It had wedged itself into the opening of the hollow tree it lives in, and was sleeping soundly as I approached. As I tried to move around to get a better photo, I stepped on a twig which broke and woke the raccoon up.

Drunken raccoon

About that time, the batteries in my camera went dead, and as I was reaching in my pocket for some fresh ones, I managed to shove my hand into a briar I was standing next to, sticking a number of thorns in my fingers. After pulling the thorns out with my teeth, I changed batteries, only to find the set I thought were fresh were really the dead ones from my GPS unit, so there I was with a drunken coon watching me and no batteries for my camera. Not the best of days in a week that hasn’t been the best of weeks.

If that wasn’t enough, Monday after my walk, I started a number of blog posts for here that I intended to be just drafts for me to work on over time. I like to keep ahead on drafts, it works better than if I try to do an entire post all at once. It fits my method of writing better, which I won’t bore you with by explaining it here. I started a couple of drafts, including the Dumb Human Trick, but somehow either I clicked the wrong button or WordPress screwed up and it published the draft long before I was done with it. I think WordPress screwed up, because it didn’t take me to the page that tells me what a great blogger I am when I finish a post, it took me to the dashboard instead. Anyway, I rushed through that post a lot quicker than I wanted to since it was already published. I am going to go back and edit it heavily when I get a chance, I am sorry about the quality of that post.

Thanks for stopping by!


The dumb human trick

I promised I was going to create a new category and do some posts on the tricks I use to get as close to wildlife as I do, and this will be my first new post on the subject. The category is “Getting close to critters” and I will update some of my earlier posts that contain tips on getting close to wildlife so that you can click on the category for all the posts on this subject.

I chose to start the series officially with a trick I call the dumb human trick. It really has nothing to do with being dumb, but most people are so unobservant that they often walk right past wildlife that is very close to them. This trick works best on species that tend to favor cover over flight. One species it really works well on is whitetail deer, but there are others as well, and every once in a while, it works on almost all species. It works best on animals that are somewhat conditioned to having humans around, but you never know until you try it if it will work in any situation.

It goes like this, I’ll be hiking and see an animal in the distance, but I can tell the animal has already spotted me. As I wrote in an earlier post, you never want to stare an animal in the eye, they seem to sense that you have spotted them. What I do is to try to assess the situation over as quickly as possible, and see if there is a way I can slip out of sight of the animal and make a closer approach by stalking it through cover. That isn’t always possible, due to where the animal is, the way the wind is blowing, or for other reasons.

If I can see no way to sneak up on an animal, then as a last resort, I use this trick, and that is to act like the typical human that trudges through the woods blissfully unaware of anything around them. If I am hiking a trail and the trail will take me closer to the animal, I start walking down the trail at a steady clip, only glancing in the direction of the animal from time to time. If I’m not on a trail, I chose a path that takes me closer to the animal, but not directly at it. Once I start walking, I don’t stop, that could tip-off the animal that the jig is up, and that it should head for thicker cover.

As I am walking, I continue to size up the situation. I’ll glance at the animal to see if it is becoming agitated, but no more than a glance now and then. I’ll look for openings in the brush near where my closest approach to the animal will be, and where my best chance of a good photo will be.

When I can tell that the animal is about ready to take flight, or when I have reached the best spot that there is for trying for a photo, I stop, turn towards the animal, and start shooting. If the animal was on the verge of flight to begin with, I’ll make my turn and shoot as quickly as I can. If the animal was still relaxed, I’ll take it slow and hope for the best.

I should mention that I turn my camera on and get it as ready as I can for the shot I expect to take while I am still walking.

Sometimes you have time to get a few shots before the subject bolts, sometimes you get nothing, and that’s what prompted me to start with this tip.

A couple of days ago I was doing my daily walk around the apartment complex where I live. As I approached one of the creeks here, I spotted a flash of grey moving through the brush on the banks of the creek, it was a great blue heron.

Great blue heron in the brush

I think you can just make out the heron’s neck and eye in that photo, I wasn’t that close to it, that shot was taken at 300mm. I couldn’t tell if it had spotted me or not, I can seldom tell with birds. I did know that there was no way for me to approach the heron where it was and stay out of sight while I was doing it. I thought that I would give the dumb human trick a try, and see what I could get. I walked along as if I didn’t know the heron was there until I got to an opening in the brush, then turned and fired.

Great blue heron tail and feet

As you can see, what I got was only the heron’s tail and feet as it took flight. There must be more shutter lag in my Nikon than I knew, as I saw the entire bird in the viewfinder as the mirror locked up. This took place at close range, less than 15 feet, and very fast, so I suppose I was lucky to even get the heron’s feet. If I hadn’t turned to shoot, the heron probably would have let me walk right on by, thinking that I had never seen it.

It does work better than that most of the time, but you do have to be ready to shoot quickly.

I’ve had my best luck using the dumb human trick on whitetail deer, which are well-known for having nerves of steel when lying low, thinking that they haven’t been spotted. I’ve seen whitetail bucks stretch their necks out along the ground with their chin resting on the ground so that their antlers look like small branches that have fallen to the ground. When a whitetail deer decides to stay hidden, it takes a lot to get it to move, and you can get incredibly close to them as long as they don’t think you know they are there, sometimes to within 10 feet.

If the animal hasn’t spotted you, there is no reason to try this trick unless it is the only way to get close, you’re usually better off trying to stay hidden as you approach an animal. If the animal does have you dead to rights, then this is a trick to try. As I wrote about the heron, it probably would have let me walk right on by, and sometimes you can do that, walk out of sight of the animal, then stay hidden as you sneak up on it from the other direction. I have done that before as well, like in circumstances when the light was too bad for a photo in the direction I was going when I first saw the animal.


Hey, look at me

It’s fall here in Michigan, a great time of year made even better by the brilliant colors of the fall foliage, and one species in particular, staghorn sumac, really sets the stage. Staghorn sumac is a bush or small tree that grows aggressively, spreading from either seeds or by spreading rhizomes, and for most of the year, it is easily overlooked. Not in the fall though. When the leaves of sumac begin to change color, it is if it is crying out to us to say “Hey, look at me. Please don’t ignore me any longer”.

Staghorn sumac

While it is easily overlooked during most of the year, it is an important species in the grand scheme of nature, for it provides food and shelter for many species of animals, particularly some species of birds. Sumac is usually recognized by its flowers and later fruit, known as drupes, which are red and conical-shaped with clusters of small flowers, so small most people think that the entire drupe is one flower.

Staghorn sumac flowers

It is the drupes that serve as food for birds, animals and even man. Sumac is related to cashews, believe it or not, and used as a spice in some parts of the world, for its light, lemony flavor. The fruit of sumac can be collected, soaked and washed in cold water, strained, sweetened and made into a pink lemonade. The leaves and berries of staghorn sumac have been mixed with tobacco and other herbs and smoked by Native American tribes. This practice continues to a small degree to this day.

All parts of the staghorn sumac, except the roots, can be used as both a natural dye and as a mordant. The plant is rich in tannins and can be added to other dye baths to improve light fastness.

Staghorn sumac in the fall

As you can see, it grows in dense clusters, often forming a secondary canopy under the canopy formed by taller growing trees. There have been a few times when I have waited out light rain showers under this secondary canopy, and stayed as dry is if I had worn a rain jacket. During those waits, I have noticed that many birds and small animals make use of sumac the same way that I was, for shelter from the rain. In the fall when the sumac leaves are changing color, it is like a different world under the canopy, as the light takes on the colors of the leaves.

Staghorn sumac in the fall

It is known for its brilliant red color, but sumac isn’t content with just one color.

Staghorn sumac in the fall

The colors of its leaves run the gamut from pastel yellow, to fire engine red, to shades of purples.

Staghorn sumac in the fall

Staghorn sumac in the fall

Staghorn sumac in the fall

Staghorn sumac in the fall

Staghorn sumac in the fall

Staghorn sumac in the fall

Staghorn sumac in the fall

Staghorn sumac in the fall

Staghorn sumac in the fall

Staghorn sumac in the fall

Staghorn sumac in the fall

Staghorn sumac in the fall

Staghorn sumac in the fall

Staghorn sumac in the fall

Staghorn sumac in the fall

Staghorn sumac in the fall

Staghorn sumac in the fall

Staghorn sumac in the fall

Staghorn sumac in the fall

Staghorn sumac in the fall

Michigan fall just wouldn’t be the same without the sumac to create vividly colored frames and splashes of color for the larger trees to play off from. The right frame can make all the difference in the world in how a photo or a piece of art looks, even though we seldom give the frame any credit, and so it is with sumac.

Staghorn sumac in the fall

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


Another Enbridge oil spill and other updates

There have been a few new developments relating to the Enbridge pipeline that ruptured last year, spilling over 800,000 gallons of crude oil into a small creek that feeds the Kalamazoo River.

One is that Enbridge has missed a deadline for cleaning up at least some of the spill. According to the story I read about it, the EPA isn’t too concerned about the fact the deadline was missed. There have been many unforeseen problems in dealing with this spill, I am not sure, but I believe it is the largest oil spill in freshwater in history. Just this last spring, the EPA announced that the clean up was almost done, and that they would be re-opening the river for recreational use. Then they found that large amounts of the crude oil had sunk to the bottom of the river and had collected there. Normally crude oil floats, but because of the grade of crude that spilled, and the fact that it is in freshwater has meant that both Enbridge and the officials overseeing the clean up have been learning as they go along.

On a spill of this magnitude, I would think that any deadlines would be at least somewhat arbitrary anyway. It isn’t as if a spill of this type happens everyday, thank goodness, and we really don’t want to flood a river with oil now and then for clean up crews to practice on, or to learn how crude oil reacts in every type of water. As long as Enbridge is doing what it takes to do the job right and clean up all the oil, then I guess that’s all we can ask for.

The poor Kalamazoo River, I think it is the most heavily polluted river in southwestern Michigan. For over two hundred years, man has done his best to destroy the river, and it keeps bouncing back. The Enbridge oil spill occurred upstream of the city of Battle Creek, but several stretches of the river below Kalamazoo are, or were, EPA Superfund sites due to PCB contamination from the old paper mills that used the river as a dump. I have never canoed or kayaked the stretch of the river where the oil spill occurred, there are too many dams too close together to make for an enjoyable float of the length I normally do. I have floated the Kalamazoo River from downtown Kalamazoo all the way to where it empties into Lake Michigan, and like all rivers, it deserves better than we have given it. Nearly a dozen dams impeded its flow, a few have been removed, but many still remain.

A good source of information for you if you are interested in floating the Kalamazoo River is the Kalamazoo River Heritage Water Trail website. Maybe I’ll get around to posting some more information from my trips kayaking the Kalamazoo River soon. If you like doing the occasional larger river as I do, you will love it, especially the portion of the river that flows through the Allegan State Game Area. The sad thing is that before you set out to float the Kalamazoo, you have to check to see if the stretch of the river you are planning on floating is open or not. The stretch of river where the oil spill happened is closed until further notice, but there are also parts of the river farther downstream are closed to recreational users when the EPA is working to clean up the PCBs or is in the process of removing one of the dams slated for removal. I have no idea how much work remains to be done downstream from the oilspill, but I did read that Georgia Pacific was finally going to get around to capping two landfills in Kalamazoo that were leaching PCBs into the river. For more information about what the EPA is doing along the Kalamazoo River, you can follow this link.

Since  the deadline from the last clean up plan has been missed, Enbridge now has to formulate a new clean up plan and submit it to the EPA for approval. I am fairly certain the clean up will continue during this process, but it still irks me that this game has to be played. It isn’t just Enbridge and this spill, it is what happens in many instances the way our environmental laws are written. A company has to come up with a plan and submit it to the correct government agency, which then has to review the plan, and either approve or reject it.

If the plan is approved, all is well and good, but if it is rejected, the same process is repeated, maybe several times. Needless to say, the process never plays out quickly. It would seem to me that it would be much quicker to have the two sides sit down to hash out and approve a plan together. The government officials have a general idea what they want the plan to be going in, so why play this silly game all the time? If the company involved is dragging its feet or refuses to do what needs to be done, then take it to court and let a judge decide.

Maybe that wouldn’t work after all. The lower Kalamazoo River is a perfect example of how not to get things done. There has been decades of plan submissions, rejections, legal wranglings, and all the while, pollutants continue to leach into the river, making the eventual clean up even more costly. It makes no sense to me.

In other related news, Enbridge has received permission to begin replacing the pipeline that burst, they are in the process of replacing several five mile long sections of the pipeline at this time, including the stretch where the pipeline broke. Enbridge was already in the planning stages of replacing sections of the pipeline before it burst, it is a shame they didn’t get around to it sooner, and then none of this would have happened.

There has still been no word from the Federal Agency investigating the break as to what caused it in the first place, eight months after they promised a report, and well over a year since the pipeline broke.

In my last update on this, I wrote that Enbridge was working with the Michigan DNR and local officials in the Pigeon River Country, installing new equipment and holding training sessions for emergency responders so that something like this will never happen in the PRC. I also wrote that I thought that Enbridge was doing the same in other areas, but that I wasn’t positive of that, now I am. In the latest newsletter from the Anglers of the Au Sable, they reported that Enbridge is installing new safety equipment on a pipeline they operate that crosses the Au Sable River. Enbridge is also holding training sessions with first responders in that location as well.

The purpose of my writing this is not to do damage control for Enbridge, but to point out that once in a while there is a company willing to do the right thing. I have no illusions that Enbridge is taking the steps that it is in other locations for any other than for financial reasons. They have learned the hard way that prevention is the best medicine, and that it is better to spend some money up front than it is to wait until the worst happens and deal with it then. If it hadn’t been for the Kalamazoo River spill, I seriously doubt that Enbridge would be doing what it is to prevent future spills. No matter what their motivation is, at least they are taking the right course of action as of now. If that changes, I’ll be one of the first calling for swift and harsh retribution.

On the other hand, I can’t help but to contrast the way Enbridge is dealing with its mistake and the way that Golden Lotus is dealing with the issue of removing the dam that it operates on the Pigeon River that has been the cause of two major fishkills in the Pigeon River. I am not going to type out the entire story again here, if you’re interested, you can read some of my earlier posts about it here, and here. There’s not much news to report on that front. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning Ranch filed an appeal of Judge Murphy’s order requiring full removal of the dam, that appeal was thrown out as entirely without merit or some equally as strong legal language, I have forgotten the exact phrase the Judge used in dismissing the appeal.

Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning backed themselves into the corner they are in, there would have been money from several sources available to aid them in removing the dam, if it wasn’t being done under a court order. Now that a judge has ordered the dam to be removed, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning has to foot the entire bill.

One more bit of news, the public comment period is now open for the land use plan being reformulated by the US Forest Service for the Huron-Manistee National Forest. I first posted about this subject here. As a result of a lawsuit, the Forest Service was ordered to reconsidered a land use plan they had finalized in 2006. The point of contention is that the Forest Service plan allows hunting and snowmobiling on too much of the Nation Forest land for one person’s liking. Here’s a link to another news story about this.

Comments about the proposed plans can be mailed to Huron-Manistee National Forests, ATTN Kenneth Arbogast, 1755 S. Mitchell St., Cadillac, MI, 49601. They can also be faxed to (231) 775-5551 or emailed to comments-eastern-huron-manistee@fs.fed.us. Comments will be accepted through Dec. 21.

I think that’s about all for now. So much news, so little time for blogging about it all. I have several posts in the works about land use and related  issues, but they continue to grow in length with each new story I read. It seems like we are headed for a time when each individual has a small piece of public land where they can do exactly what they want, since no one seems to be willing to share public lands with other users any longer.

As always, thanks for stopping by to read my little rants.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Opportunity

This week’s topic for the Weekly Photo Challenge is opportunity, and the way I took the announcement is that they were looking for photos taken at the spur of the moment. To me, there are few situations that require a photographer to react quickly when an opportunity presents itself as birds in flight.

Canadian geese in flight

In fact, as you can see, I reacted a little too quickly and didn’t get all of the lead bird’s bill in the photo. I could have cropped it out of this photo, but I like the fact that I was able to get one goose with its wings on the downbeat, one with its wings level, and the last goose with its wings on the upbeat. This opportunity was too good to pass up, the geese were at close range, against a bright blue sky, and with the lighting about as good as it gets for trying to get a photo of a large bird in flight.


Back online

I signed up for Internet service through my apartment complex yesterday, and they got around to switching it on around noon today. So far, I’m loving it! It is so much faster than my old Verizon wireless service was, and cheaper to boot!

It will take me a few days to get caught up, good thing the weekend is almost here. There have been quite a few new readers signed up to my blog, and I haven’t been able to get back with them to thank them, so here’s a big

Thank you!

for right now.

I have a number of posts I am working on, and a huge backlog of photos to post.

After our two weeks of magnificent weather, last Thursday the wind and rain returned. It has been either extremely windy, rainy, or both, everyday for a week. Of course the wind kicked in just as the trees were getting to their peak of fall color, it seems to happen most years. I did manage to get a few good photos, although I didn’t make it up to the Jordan River valley like I had hoped. Oh well, there’s always next year, and maybe the wind won’t be howling with gusts over 40 MPH next year.

Fall foliage

While running around chasing birds and deer, I did manage a poor shot of an Eastern Towhee.

Eastern Towhee

And this photo of a hermit thrush, I believe.

Hermit Thrush

And one of yet another warbler I can’t identify, in fact, I’m not even sure it is a warbler.

Unidentified Warbler

As I said in an earlier post, the woods were alive with more birds than I have ever seen in one day last Sunday, but I couldn’t get close enough, get them to sit still, or get the lighting right most of the time.

I missed the weekly photo challenge last week, hopefully I will get a photo for this week’s topic. Not having Internet service at home seemed to be more time consuming than I thought it was going to be.

Well, that’s it for now, I have a lot more catching up to do, as always, thanks for stopping by!


Federal judge halts Paiute cutthroat trout recovery plan – Sacramento Bee

This is a story from the Sacramento Bee that I am posting in its entirety, since not every one reads the Bee.

Federal judge halts Paiute cutthroat trout recovery plan

By Denny Walsh

dwalsh@sacbee.com

Published: Saturday, Sep. 10, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 1B

A Sacramento federal judge has quashed a joint federal-state plan to improve conditions for a rare High Sierra fish, ruling that an auger driven by a gasoline-powered generator cannot be used in designated wilderness areas.

For more than 25 years, government agencies have sought by various means to increase the population of the Paiute cutthroat trout and restore this rare creature to its historical range.

Six years ago, U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. ordered a halt to the state’s plan to poison one stretch of a High Sierra creek and a lake as part of the recovery project.

This week it was Damrell again stepping in to block the latest plan with a permanent injunction based on the federal Wilderness Act.

Spokespersons for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the California Department of Fish and Game vowed Friday that the agencies will continue to work together to find a way to accomplish the recovery and restoration of the Paiute cutthroat trout.

“Our team of lawyers are currently reviewing the order to see what we can do to move forward,” said Fish and Game spokesman Kevin Thomas.

Critical to this analysis, he said, is the Forest Service’s decision to employ the auger.

“We can retool the project to address the court’s concerns, we can appeal, that’s two of our options,” he noted.

The plan was to poison with rotenone 11 miles of Silver King Creek to kill non-native fish that crossbreed with the Paiute cutthroat and then to stock the stretch with pure Paiute cutthroat from established populations in the upper portions of the watershed.

The creek is in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness section of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in Alpine County. The 11 miles includes six miles of the main stem of the creek downstream of Llewellyn Falls to Silver King Canyon and five miles of tributaries.

The auger would be used to distribute potassium permanganate to neutralize the toxicity of the rotenone further downstream.

The action was proposed to prevent extinction of the Paiute cutthroat, as required by the federal Endangered Species Act, the agencies say. The Paiute cutthroat is native only to Silver King Creek and is listed under the ESA as a threatened species.

The goal is 2,500 pure Paiute cutthroat greater than 3 inches in length in the pristine watershed.

The agencies recently announced they planned to begin the project in the late summer or early fall of next year. Rotenone was to be applied twice a year over two to three years; each application would take seven days.

Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, Wilderness Watch, and Friends of Silver King Creek, all nonprofit corporations, sued to stop the project.

They claim that the use of the auger does not qualify as an exception to the Wilderness Act’s prohibition of motorized equipment, that the project elevates recreational fishing over preserving wilderness character, and that the agencies failed to prove the project is necessary to meet the act’s minimum requirements for administering wilderness areas.

The agencies countered that using the auger is the most effective method of applying potassium permanganate compared to the drip system, and would minimize the human and ecological effects.

In his 63-page opinion issued Tuesday, Damrell agreed with the plaintiffs that, in choosing the conservation of the Paiute cutthroat over preservation of the wilderness character, “the agencies left native invertebrates species (such as stoneflies, caddisflies and mayflies) out of the balance, and thus improperly concluded that authorization of motorized equipment will comply with the act.”

The plaintiffs are entitled to a permanent injunction barring the project, the judge declared, because “they have demonstrated that rotenone treatment will kill sensitive macro-invertebrate species and that re-colonization will not occur for some species because they cannot adapt to the project area” once the plan has been carried out.

He said the facts tip in favor of the plaintiff “as no exigency exists to begin the project now,” and “the public interest favors preservation of the unimpaired wilderness.”

via Federal judge halts Paiute cutthroat trout recovery plan – Sacramento Sports – Kings, 49ers, Raiders, High School Sports | Sacramento Bee.


No Internet, week three

The end may be in sight! I have a week’s vacation time coming, and I think I have convinced the powers that be at work to give me the pay now. That will mean that I may be back online full-time by this weekend, early next week at the latest if I get the extra check.

Both Friday and Saturday of last week, my time at the community building was limited by other people using it. Friday they used it for an employee meeting, and Saturday, people who were renting it for a party that afternoon showed up early to decorate.

I have been taking a few photos, have lots more deer pictures, I haven’t decided when or if I will post them. No zombies in this batch. I had to rush the last post, “Attack of the Zombie Deer” due to my limited time online. Sorry about that. I did manage to capture two deer grooming each other, but it was nearly dark, so the quality isn’t the greatest. What the heck.

Whitetail deer grooming each other.

I guess to make up for that one, I need to post this one.

Whitetail doe chewing her cud

On the same walk as when I took those photos, I saw hundreds, if not thousands of songbirds, some migrating, some local residents. There are times that I think trying to photograph small songbirds is a fool’s errand, at least with the equipment I have now. I took many photos, but the ones taken with my Nikon aren’t close enough for identification purposes, and I couldn’t follow the small birds in the LCD screen of my Canon. I did manage to sneak up on this wren.

Winter wren

I’m not sure if it is a house wren that are locals, or a visitor passing through during its migration. It looks too dark and it has too many stripes for a house wren, I think.

An update: A big thank you to Bob Zeller of Texas Tweeties for identifying this wren as a winter wren! Turns out that they nest just to the north of where I live in Michigan. I have seen them before, but never close enough to identify them for what they are.

I think I saw more birds on Sunday than I have ever seen in one day before!

I tried to force myself to write this weekend, that didn’t go well, needless to say. I just wasn’t in the mood to write. I know I will end up editing what I did write, it will be nice to be back online so that I can do more as the mood strikes me.

I still have photos from two weeks ago that I want to post, I hope to get them posted this week. I can’t promise anything though. I have been tied up with some other things, like work. One night both the truck and the lift truck broke down, which meant several hours of overtime. Friday, I had a safety meeting to attend, more overtime. The extra pay will be nice, but it is interfering with my blogging.

That’s it for this one, hopefully, I will be online full-time by the weekend. As always, thanks for stopping by!


Attack of the Zombie deer!

“Let me tell you something, do you like monster movies? I love monster movies, I simply adore monster movies, and the cheaper they are, the better they are. And cheapnis in the case of a monster movie has nothing to do with the budget of the film, although it helps.”

Fans of Frank Zappa while recognize those words as the opening of his introduction to the song “Cheapnis” It’s a parody of the really bad monster movies made back in the 50’s and early 60’s that are so bad that they’re great fun to watch.

So, what does any of that have to do with a nature blog? I have some really bad photos to share with you that you may get a kick out of seeing. Sometimes you can learn more from bad photos than you can from good ones. I am not the least bit ashamed to tell you I mess up from time to time, and when I do, it is usually in a big way.

The set up is this, I decided to do one of my deer hunts with a camera last Saturday. Nothing unusual about that, the difference is that this time, I took the high-powered flash unit for my Nikon along with me. I have had it for some time now, but I have never used it in my nature photography. I use fill-in flash quite often, but I have always relied on the flash units built-in my cameras. It seemed like using the higher powered flash would be a good idea, wrong!

The evening started out well enough.

Autumn splendor

That was my view as I was getting ready to start my hunt, here’s another.

Yellow brilliance

I started my hunt, and soon came upon my first victim, a fox squirrel gathering nuts.

Fox squirrel

In the small review window of my camera, it looked like the flash had performed well. A little red-eye, but not bad, and using the flash let me freeze the squirrel even though its tail was twitching like crazy.

Then for the first deer, I didn’t need the flash, it was in enough light to get this shot.

Whitetail deer

They were a little farther away than I like, but not too bad.

Whitetail deer

These aren’t the best shots I have ever taken of deer, but I was just warming up.

Whitetail deer

Stupid deer decided to shake its head just as I shot. At least the next one didn’t move.

Whitetail deer

She was just lying there chewing her cud. I thought about trying to get closer, but it was already getting late, and I was after bucks, not does.

Whitetail buck

But it was beginning to get dark, and you can barely make out the antlers on this spike.

Whitetail spike

Even using the attached flash. Time to get out the big (light) gun!

Whitetail deer

That didn’t work very well, let me try one from the back.

Whitetail deer

That’s better, let’s try the front again.

Whitetail deer

Oh no! I’ve created a zombie deer!

I think that is the most unnatural nature photo that I have ever taken. Nothing looks real, it looks like the bad special effects of one of those bad 50’s movies. The background looks like a fake painted backdrop. The deer looks like it was superimposed into the scene as when they were trying to make normal sized people or animals look like miniatures or giants, even the branch in the foreground looks fake.

I still had hopes that the high output flash unit would work better under different circumstances, so I tried it on these two does.

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

They don’t look as bad. I don’t mind it when people can tell I used a fill-in flash for some of my photos, in a way, it proves that I do get as close to critters as I say I do. But, the amount of “green” eye in these photos is too much even for me. That, and the fact that it made it look as though I took these at night. It wasn’t dark yet, it was still early evening. I really don’t want my photos to be mistaken for ones taken from the automatic trail cameras they sell to hunters these days.

It was getting late though, so I picked up my pace. I didn’t want to get locked in the park if they closed the gates. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, and I didn’t want to hike another four miles home if was an evening when they did.

I was walking a trail that runs right on the bank of Buck Creek, and as I was walking along, I noticed a duck swimming in the creek right beside me, going the same direction I was. I didn’t pay much attention to it, I assumed it was a mallard, and I was hunting deer.

I walked as the duck swam about twenty feet from me, we probably covered about 50 feet side by side, it was kind of cool. Then, I noticed it wasn’t a mallard, it was a wood duck! I stopped dead in my tracks, at the exact same instant, the duck stopped swimming. I looked at the duck not believing I had been walking that close to a male wood duck, the duck looked at me, not believing it had been swimming that close to a human. I grabbed for my camera, the duck took to wing, the duck was faster.

It’s funny now, but at the time I was kicking myself in the butt for not paying more attention to the duck in the first place. I would love to get a good close up of an adult male wood duck. I think they are America’s most beautiful duck, and one of our most beautiful birds.

Some years ago, I used to walk a piece of property that had a small pond on it. I walked everyday, much as I do now around the apartment complex where I live now. I had a system of trails that I had created myself, I didn’t always go past the pond, but many days I did. I was a bit surprised when a pair of wood ducks started calling the pond their home.

I would take my camera with me when they first took up residence there in the pond, but I could never get close enough to them for a good photo. After a while, I gave up trying. Over time, they got used to me being around at about the same time of day nearly everyday and they wouldn’t fly off at the first sight of me. By then, the idea of getting a photo of them never crossed my mind again, since I was seeing them everyday. Who needs a photo when you can see the real thing?

I watched them raise three or four broods of young ones over the years, then the bulldozers came. The pond is still there, but now, it is in some one’s backyard, as they built a subdivision on that property I used to walk. I don’t know if the wood ducks stuck around or not. I would love to have a photo from those days though, darn. That’s one of the reasons I never pass up the opportunity for a photograph any longer, and why I always carry a camera with me when ever I am outdoors.

Back to the deer hunt, or should I say zombie hunt.

Bad photo of a whitetail buck

I saw that buck on the other side of the creek, pulled up and shot just as he was figuring out that I was a human being. It’s a horrible photo! My excuse is that it was so dark by then, I couldn’t see what the camera was focusing on through the viewfinder. Heck, I couldn’t even see the weeds that the auto-focus focused on in the viewfinder. The way the eyes seem to bulge out makes this photo so bad that it’s kind of fun.

I continued on, having decided that the high output flash unit wasn’t what I hoped it was going to be as far as taking nature photos. Oh well, back to being the human tripod. Another great B movie title, Zombie Deer vs. The Human Tripod. Actually I had no choice. I saw this small herd of bucks too far away to use the flash, even if I had wanted to.

Whitetail bucks

Nikon D50
2011/10/08 18:59:51.2
JPEG (8-bit) Fine
Image Size: Large (3008 x 2000)
Lens: 70-300mm F/4-5.6 D
Focal Length: 300mm
Exposure Mode: Programmed Auto
Metering Mode: Center-Weighted
1/15 sec – F/5.6
Exposure Comp.: 0 EV
Sensitivity: ISO 1600
Optimize Image: Normal
White Balance: Auto
AF Mode: AF-A
Flash Sync Mode: Not Attached
Auto Flash Comp: 0 EV
Color Mode: Mode IIIa (sRGB)

I posted the shooting information in case any one is interested. Shooting at 300mm with a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second, pretty darn impressive if I do say so myself. It isn’t a great photo by any means, but I did get a usable shot of a small herd of whitetail bucks, not something that happens everyday. The bucks had seemed to be fairly well lit when I pulled up to shoot, then I saw the shutter speed, and was bummed out, thinking the shot would be so bad as to be one that I would end up deleting it. I concentrated as hard as I could, just like in the old days of target shooting with my dad, and squeezed the shutter release as gently as I could.

I took a few more, but the light was fading fast. each shot required a longer exposure, and I wasn’t concentrating as well as I should have, so the rest were junk.

So I have decided to leave the high output flash unit at home, no more turning poor innocent deer into wild-eyed zombies.

Oh, one more shot before I end this.

Evening in the woods

This was my view of the leaves as they caught the very last rays of sun that evening. All in all, a good evening in the woods even if I did miss the wood duck.

Thanks for stopping by!


Playing the waiting game

There won’t be too many words in this post, the photos pretty much speak for themselves, other than a brief intro here.

I was doing my daily walk/hike/hunt around the apartment complex and stopped at the fence surrounding one of the small ponds here. I thought that I had looked the pond over very well, but I didn’t see a thing. It was another glorious Indian Summer day, so I stood there leaning on the fence, enjoying the day, and watching dozens of small white and yellow butterflies flitting about the tall grass that rings the pond. I thought about going down to the gap in the fence and walking out into the tall grass to get some photos of the butterflies, but I have dozens of photos of them already.

I was about ready to resume my walk, when I noticed there was something opaque blocking the light from coming through the willows and reeds at the water’s edge, and whatever was blocking the light was oval-shaped, and about the size of a heron or crane, so I stood there a while longer. Eventually, the shape began to move, and when it stepped into a spot where the vegetation was thinner, and I could see that it was a great blue heron.

Great blue heron

As per my usual, I shot that shot quickly just to get a photo, even though the lighting was not the greatest. When the heron stepped behind some of the taller weeds again, I backed away from the pond, and circled to get ahead of the heron, and found a spot closer to the water where I could remain somewhat hidden as the heron stalked its prey. Then I waited, hoping it continued hunting in the same direction.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Drat, I missed the strike. The heron has a fish in its beak, although it is almost impossible to see.

Great blue heron

Getting ready to swallow it.

Great blue heron

Down it goes.

Great blue heron

The fish must have been wiggling inside the heron.

Great blue heron

I don’t know if that’s why or if it has to do with preening, but I often see herons ruffle their feathers like that right after they swallow a fish. Then they shudder a little, and their feathers return to normal.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

The heron had moved so far that the light was getting bad again, so I pulled back a second time, found another spot to sit, and waited again for the heron to get past the weeds.

Great blue heron

I got bored, what can I say? You can just make out the heron’s head through the weeds. It seemed like I was waiting a lot more than I was shooting, but that’s what it takes sometimes.

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

The heron was going behind some taller weeds again, so I tried the circle ahead thing again, this time the heron saw me.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

It didn’t go far, but now the light was wrong again……

Great blue heron

………so once more I circled ahead and waited…again.

Great blue heron

It had had enough of me by then, and flew off across the pond.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

I thought about trying to circle around once again, but decided against it. I already had many good photos, and it was obvious from the heron’s behavior, that it was getting tired of me stalking it.

I wish I could have captured the moment when it had caught fish, but their strikes are very fast! I think it would be interesting to film a number of creatures that move very quickly, like a heron, or the strike of a snake, with a high-speed camera. Then, compare the speeds of the different animals to see which ones are the quickest. I would wager that the strike of a heron as it catches fish would rank right near the top of the quickest animals on Earth. They move so slowly while they are hunting, and their flight is slow and graceful, but how quickly they strike always impresses me.

That’s it for this one, as always, thanks for stopping by.


Doing it the hard way

People have asked me how I get some of the wildlife shots that I get, and that isn’t an easy question to answer. I do everything the hard way, often times, the wrong way. It isn’t that I don’t know how to take wildlife photos the easy way, I do. The easy way is to go to a spot where wildlife is likely to make an appearance, find a place to hide, then sit and wait for the critters to show up. That’s not my style. Almost all my wildlife photos are taken while I am on the move.

My problem is that I don’t like to just sit while I am in the woods, I prefer to be moving, and I prefer the challenge of hunting and stalking animals. Part of that is because I see so many other natural wonders while moving compared to what I would see if I just sat somewhere. I could take an empty five gallon bucket, one of the seat cushions they sell for hunters, and one of those cheap fabric blinds that they sell, go out in the woods, sit with my camera mounted on a tripod, and come back with some excellent photos of whitetail deer for example. However, then I would miss most of the wildflowers, insects, birds, trees, and scenic views that I see and photograph the way I do things now.

I say most of those things, because you can’t just sit anywhere in the woods and expect to see wildlife, you have to find spots where wildlife is likely to be to make sitting pay off. And, I say spots, plural, because where wildlife is likely to be changes with the weather and the seasons. So before you go out and sit in the woods, you have to scout an area to find the places wildlife is likely to be during the differing weather conditions that may occur while you are there. For some people, that would be just nice, sunny days, but I am outdoors nearly every day, no matter what the weather is, so I need lots of spots. One way or another, the only way to make sitting worthwhile is to be familiar with both an area, and the wildlife you would like to photograph, just as hunters should be.

When you cut through the chaff, wildlife photography is exactly like hunting, but using a camera rather than a gun. The difference is that the photographer needs a clearer view of his prey than a hunter does, otherwise it is exactly the same. There are hundreds of books available on both subjects, hunting and wildlife photography, I have even read a few of each. The one I like the most is “Hunting Big Game in North America” by Jack O’Conner. I was going to recommend it, but I have begun to read it again for the first time in years. It isn’t as good as I remembered it.

As the title states, it is about big game, such as elk, mountain sheep, and bear as examples, but the principles of hunting apply to all wildlife. I’ll get to more on that later. When I was a young lad who didn’t know a lot about hunting and wildlife, it seemed like a great book. Now, it seems dated, not surprising, since it was written 50 years ago. But, it is still a sad day when you figure out that one of your childhood heroes wasn’t as great as your memories of them are.

Still, it is the book that taught me how to hunt, and hunting ethics, along with my dad and his family. I would still recommend it to young hunters just getting started, but the book probably isn’t for the wildlife photographer, unless they are also hunters.

Just as there are hunters who are less than ethical, there have been a few wildlife photographers who have had questionable ethics as well. Such as shooting their photographs at a zoo, then passing them off as having been taken in the wild. Or, posing mounted animals in the wild, and passing them off as living animals.

Over time, what is considered to be ethical changes. It used to be accepted practice to bait animals in close enough to take good photographs. This was especially true when photographing large predators, particularly the big cats such as lions, tigers, and leopards. The photographer would tie up a lamb, goat kid, or other small prey animal in an area where the big cats were known to frequent. Then the photographer would set up a mini photo studio around the helpless victim, and wait for the big cats to show up and do their thing. It may have been gruesome, but it made for great photos.

I know baiting still goes on, I recently saw a spectacular photo of a spotted owl and the caption read that it was coming to a lure, in otherwords, bait. I wish I could find it again in order to see if I could find out what the photographer used as a lure, but I haven’t been able to find it.

Baiting isn’t all bad, as long as you don’t use live animals as the bait. Photographing birds at a bird feeder is baiting, there’s nothing wrong with that, at least in my opinion. But it isn’t my preferred style, I prefer the challenge of the hunt.

With today’s technology, it is quite possible to set up an number of remote flash units, complete with diffusers and reflectors as desired, set the camera up on a tripod, then walk to a blind a distance away, monitor the scene with closed circuit TV, and fire everything by remote control. I am sure that what I described is being done, and I am sure that the photographers doing so get some exceptional photos. That’s not for me, at least not until my legs give out.

There are different styles of hunting, some people like to sit, some like to still hunt, and some prefer stalking. My style is to combine still hunting and stalking.

Still hunting isn’t quite what it sounds like, you aren’t sitting still while still hunting, you are moving slowly and stopping often. You take a few steps, stop, look around you, then take several more steps. How many steps I take and how often I stop depends on my surroundings at the time. In thick cover, I will only take three or four steps between pauses to look around, in an open field, I may only stop a couple of times as I cross the field. As I noted in an earlier post, this stop and go method of moving through the woods also helps to mask the human sound that most people make while traveling in the woods. If you observe most wildlife, they move in a stop and go manner, that is, they take a few steps, stop, look around, then take a few more steps. Not only will stopping often make it easier for you to see wildlife, you’re less likely to frighten the wildlife away.

Here are some things not to do if you want to try this style. Don’t go charging over the top of a hill or ridge without stopping often. As you get towards the top of a hill, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb to any wildlife on the other side. The same applies to a field, stop before you get into the clearing, if you walk out of the woods into the field without stopping, any wildlife that was there will be gone before you see it. Most wildlife stays towards the edges of fields, close to cover. As soon as they know you are around, they slip into the cover of the woods. The same applies to bodies of water, whether they are lakes, ponds, rivers or streams. When you know you are getting close to water, slow down!

In order to photograph wildlife, you have to see it, and hopefully, before it sees you. There are several things you can do to help you see wildlife before it does see you, and they require that you train your eyes and mind to do certain things. I am not a doctor, but I believe that I read that our eyes see everything that there is to see, but that our minds filter out much of the information that the eyes send to the brain. So in order to see more wildlife, you have to train your brain to stop filtering out the visual clues that your eyes see that will help you to spot wildlife.

The first is to catch all motion, focus on it, and discern what caused the motion. It will probably turn out to be a leaf fluttering in the wind, but it could be the twitch of a deer’s ear. Unless you focus in on the motion, you’ll never know. That motion may come in different forms. Some of the bird photos I have taken have come because I noticed the shadows from the birds moving across the ground, alerting me to the birds’ presence overhead. Or, I have noticed a tree branch moving differently than it would be moving from the wind, and find that it is a bird, squirrel, or other animal causing the branch to move.

The next is patches of color, no matter how small. I seldom see an entire animal at first, most often I see a patch of color first, then see the animal. I use this trick a lot, since I like photographing birds and wildflowers as well as animals. Is that patch of red a scarlet tanager, a cardinal flower, or a party balloon that landed in a tree? Is that patch of blue a bluebird, Virginia bluebells, or a food wrapper some slob discarded in the woods? Is that patch of white a deer’s tail, trilliums blooming, or a piece of paper? I find a lot of trash by following colors. 😦 I suppose that’s a small price to pay considering everything else that investigating a small patch of color has led me to find.

I read this next trick many years ago in an unlikely source, I don’t even remember where I read it, it may have been the Reader’s Digest of all places. But, it goes like this. Most plant life grows vertically, most animals present a horizontal shape to our eyes. When you’re walking through the woods, the trunks of trees create vertical lines, if you see something horizontal between the tree trunks, it could be part of an animal, like the back of a deer. Of course it could be a fallen tree, but it pays to notice any horizontal lines when you are in the woods.

I’ve saved the most important trick for last, because it ties in with the other three, and that is to see through the trees. I’m not saying that you need to develop X-ray vision, what I mean by see through the trees is that you have to train your brain to see through the small openings in the brush to see what is in the distance. I don’t want to make this too technical, I’ll try to keep it as short as possible.

Over generations of living inside structures we have built to protect us from the elements, the human brain has become accustomed to being surrounded by walls that our eyes can’t see through, except for an occasional window. When we go outdoors, our brains are so used to being surrounded by walls, that we “create” walls where the brush begins to block a certain percentage of our view, and that percentage is surprisingly small. If there is a large enough opening in the brush, our brains will process that information as if it is a window to the outside.

Take the average person out into the woods and ask them how far they can see, and the answer will be something like twenty to thirty feet, depending on how thickly the trees and brush are growing. The reality is that they can see much farther than that by looking through the openings between the trees and brush, and that’s the trick.

In order to see more animals, we need to see through all the “windows” through the brush, not just the large ones. I’ll admit, this is the one that I still need to remind myself of constantly. I know all this, I have read studies about it, yet I still find myself creating walls where none exist. I use the other tips I have given you, like looking for motion, colors, and shapes, to force my brain to process the information my eyes are seeing, to look through all the windows, not just the large ones.

It doesn’t take a very large opening in the brush to be able to see the twitch of a squirrel’s tail, a splash of color from a brightly colored songbird, or the horizontal line formed by a deer’s back, if we allow that information our eyes have gathered to make it through into our perception.

That’s how I spot wildlife while I am out in the woods. The problem with doing it this way is that it doesn’t give me the luxury of “setting up” to take great photos. Since I am moving, most of the time I have to shoot quickly before the wildlife spots me and disappears into the brush. That means dealing with bad lighting situations, and not being able to choose the backgrounds for my shots.

I know that, and I know that most of the photos I take of wildlife are going to be less than great, but I enjoy the challenge of the hunt. I enjoy getting close to wildlife, and I also get to see many other beautiful things nature has to offer that I wouldn’t see if I set up a blind someplace and just sat, waiting for wildlife to show up. It may be the hard way, but it is my way.

Every once in a while, I’ll spot wildlife long before it sees me, then I get the chance to stalk it. I’ve stalked everything from insects to elk. That may sound funny, but the principles of stalking are the same no matter what you are trying to get close to, staying out of sight until the subject is close enough to photograph.

I learned how to stalk from reading the book I mentioned before, “Hunting Big Game in North America” by Jack O’Conner. Once you learn the basics, it is easy to apply them to any type of wildlife you want to photograph. It sounds easy, spot the critter before it spots you. Determine what the critter is doing, then work your way to a spot where you and the critter will be close enough together for you to get a good photograph. One of the advantages to stalking is that you have somewhat more control over the lighting and background, if you plan your stalk correctly, and things go as planned.

I’ll give you an example of stalking a whitetail deer, since there may be a few hunters who read this. As I am working my way through the woods, I spot a flicker of white from a deer’s ear through one of the windows in the brush as the deer is listening for danger that may be approaching it. The ears are most often what part of a deer I see first, deer are always moving their ears, much like a radar antennae. I stop dead in my tracks, and begin watching the deer to see what it is doing. Is it laying down or feeding? If it is laying there, it will probably be there for a while, unless something scares it away. If it is feeding, which direction is it moving? Deer are generally browsers, they eat a little of this, a little of that, as they travel slowly through the woods. They don’t travel in a straight line, you have to watch them for a while to get an idea of the general direction they are moving.

Once I know what the deer is doing, I look over the lay of the land, looking for objects that will hide me from the deer’s view as I work my way closer. If the deer is moving, I pick a spot to get to before the deer gets there, so I can wait motionless for it to arrive to the chosen spot. If the deer is lying down, I plot a course where I can stay hidden until I am close enough to get a photo.

Moving deer are easier to stalk in one way, as they give me more options as far as how I plan my route to get ahead of them. The problem is that the stalk doesn’t always go as planned. Sitting deer make choosing a route more difficult, but they are more likely to still be there if the stalk goes well. Either way, I have to stay downwind of them, or my scent would alert them to my presence. I look for a route that is open enough so I can move without making noise, yet shields me from the deer’s vision. I use hills, mounds, trees, and clumps of grass to block the deer from seeing me.

Being out of sight of what you are trying to stalk takes some getting used to, the urge is to keep what you are stalking in sight, but then your quarry is more likely to see you as well. If everything goes as planned, I arrive at the tree I had chosen before as my hiding spot in time to watch the deer approach me, as I snap their picture. Or, I slowly raise my head and camera over the small hill I had picked as the spot where I would photograph the deer lying down from, and it is still lying there for me to photograph.

Once you learn how to make a successful stalk, you can use it on nearly all types of wildlife, except for butterflies. They are so unpredictable, that I have never found a way to stalk them. 🙂 Stalking is a great way to get close to the wading birds, such as herons, egrets, or cranes. You can read one of my of earlier posts, “Stalking the stalker” which was about one of my stalks of a little green heron, including a photo of it catching a fish.

It doesn’t always go as planned, sometimes I mess up and spook what I am stalking, other times it is other people who do it for me, but I enjoy the challenge. I guess I am like a kid that never grew up and that still likes to play hide and seek, or the hunter who still likes to hunt, even though the “thrill of the kill” no longer holds any thrill for me.

It isn’t the easiest way to get wildlife photos, but it is my way, even if it is more difficult.


No Internet, week two

It’s the beginning of my second week with no Internet access at home, and while the withdrawal symptoms seemed to have eased somewhat, I still miss it. I had planned to spend as much time at the community building on Saturday as I could to get caught up on everything online, that didn’t go as planned. I had just gotten set up and was reading my E-mail, when three very nice young ladies showed up to start decorating the building for a birthday party they were throwing later in the afternoon. They were gracious enough to allow me to stay long enough to do what I absolutely had to do, but they were paying for the building, and I felt like a moocher sitting there.

I want to apologize to every one who has commented or liked any of my posts here over the last week for not getting back to you quicker. I also apologize for either not leaving a comment, or only a very short one on your blogs, your photos have deserved better, thanks for sharing them!

The weather has been absolutely fantastic! After nearly two weeks of cloudy, cool, rainy weather, for the last week, it has been hard to find a cloud. We’ve had warm afternoons, it has been in the 80’s the last few days, with cool evenings, it doesn’t get any better. This has been without a doubt the best Indian Summer that I have ever experienced!

I went deer hunting Saturday evening, that didn’t go quite as planned, too many people out in the woods enjoying the weather, but I did get a few photos which will show up in a later post.

Sunday, I went to the beach at P. J. Hoffmaster State Park, and it was jammed. Not only was it crowded, but there were a few hearty souls swimming in Lake Michigan! The first weekend in October, and people were swimming in the big lake, not typical Michigan fall weather. I’ll post a few photos of that trip later as well.

I should have gone kayaking, but the only place I could have afforded to go was the Grand River, and while I know I would have enjoyed it, I wasn’t in the mood for the Grand. This summer of being broke has really but a crimp on my normal activities.

Most of my kayak trips this year have been solo, on either lakes or larger rivers, I miss the faster rivers of up north!

I only went up north a couple of times, for my vacation in May, and the Labor Day weekend, that’s disgusting! I hardly did any trout fishing at all, I could have hit the Rogue a few more times, but it was so hot all this summer that I was worried about fish mortality. When fish are already stressed from heat and lack of oxygen, the added stress of catch and release can be enough to kill them, and I don’t want to kill them. With gas just under $4 a gallon all summer, I couldn’t afford trips to my favorite rivers, to either fish or kayak, or hike for that matter.

I am accumulating a ton of fall foliage shots, I try to weed them out, but that’s hard to do. They are all so beautiful. It isn’t that those are the only shots I would be taking, but there isn’t too much else to photograph this time of year. The insects are all but gone, the wildflowers were, but with this great weather, a few hardy ones are trying to make a comeback.

Let’s see, what else has been going on. I stopped off at Batteries Plus and picked up four more eight packs of their Werker brand batteries that fit my Canon camera and my GPS unit. The Werker batteries seem to last at least half again as long as the name brands, and at less than half the price. I even fed a couple of them to the battery ravenous GPS unit of mine when I hiked Hoffmaster State Park Sunday, and they lasted the entire hike, with plenty of life left in them. That has never happened before! I didn’t go very far distance wise, it was too hot, and I was hiking a trail I had never done before. The trail map from the DNR doesn’t list the distance, so I had to estimate how far I would be hiking, and over estimated the distance somewhat.

It isn’t the distance that I travel that drains the batteries anyway, it is the amount of time the unit is on, and it was on for a lot longer than it normally would have been for a hike of the length I did Sunday, as I stopped on the beach and did some sunbathing. That has never happened before either, my sunbathing on the Lake Michigan beach in October, it sure felt good! I’ll have more details and photos in an upcoming post.

If this sounds like a shameless plug for Batteries Plus and Werker batteries, I guess it is. As I have posted a few times lately, I am tired of paying for crappy service and performance, so when I find something that works better than expected, I will share it here.

I meant to get this published on Tuesday, but when I left my apartment for my daily hike, there was a notice on the door that my water would be shutoff on Wednesday for maintenance. I thought it a good idea to make sure I was caught up on laundry, just in case. That, and I had yet another great day photography wise.

I think I shot the best series of great blue heron photos I have ever taken. No one photo is that much above and beyond what I have gotten before, but the entire series, some photos from both cameras, adds up to the best collection so far. I am going to try to get them posted before the end of the week. That is if I don’t spend hours more photographing something else before the end of the week.

I am getting behind in posting, I have many drafts almost done, then I get distracted and start a new one before I forget what I wanted to post. This no Internet at home sucks. I used to be able to multitask, download the photos from my cameras while I checked my E-mail, then sort through them, pick out the good ones, and start them on their way to being reduced in size to another folder while I did something else online. I used to do much of my research online after I got home from work, but I can’t do that anymore. I have tried writing after work, but that doesn’t go well. I am too tired to do too much writing, I end up just proofing what I have already written.

I have also decided to switch the focus of my tips on nature photography slightly. I am a good photographer, but there are others much better than I am. My forte is getting close to wildlife, so that’s where I can be the most help to budding nature photographers. I am going to add a category, I haven’t decided the name yet, then use that as a way for people to find the tips. My ability as an outdoorsman trumps my weaknesses as a photographer, so I think I should focus on the best way I can help those who wish to take wildlife photos.

I have posted my entry in the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge, this week’s topic was comfort, hope you like the photo I chose for it.

As always, thanks for stopping by!


Weekly Photo Challenge: Comfort

This is my first entry into the weekly photo challenge that WordPress does, I am not sure if I am doing this correctly or not.

The topic this week is comfort, and here’s my photo that I think best fits the topic.

Mother fox squirrel relaxing

I had seen her in the tree and sneaked up close to her, taking several shots as she was on alert and ready to run if I had presented any danger to her. As I stood watching her, she decided that it was a good time and place to take a break and just hang out for a while, as I didn’t pose a threat to her. She was obviously enjoying some much needed downtime. I backed away slowly as not to bother her, and she continued to lay on the branch for some time after that.

Thanks for stopping by!


Feathered Frustrations

As I was walking along, I heard numerous small birds in a tree right next to me, and one of them was a warbler. It was back away from me, too far away to take any photos, but I thought that if I waited, maybe the warbler, or another bird would land in a place close enough for me to get a photo. The warbler was working its way closer to me all the time, then perched on one of the runners from a grapevine that was growing on the tree, right in plain sight!

Feathered frustrations

But not long enough for me to get a photo as you can see. Now where did that little bugger go? There he is! Right in with all the leaves that are making my auto-focus go crazy trying to pick which small pale yellow green object in the frame to focus on in a tree full of small pale yellow green leaves.

Feathered frustrations

I can do better than that, better switch to manual focus.

Feathered frustrations

Too late! Now where did he go? There he is, in the open again!

Feathered frustrations

Sit still you stupid little bird, I only want to take your portrait. Maybe this chickadee will cooperate better.

Feathered frustrations

But its right in line with an opening in the leaves, screwing up the auto-exposure.

Feathered frustrations

That’s a better spot, but now your hiding your head behind a leaf, how about moving a little?

Feathered frustrations

Not that far! I didn’t want you to fly away as I pressed the shutter release.

Feathered frustrations

There’s the warbler again!

Feathered frustrations

Or not. There he is.

Feathered frustrations

I wish you guys would hold still for maybe 2 seconds or so.

Feathered frustrations

Not behind a leaf, please!

Feathered frustrations

Better, but please hold still!

Feathered frustrations

Thank you! But how can I identify you in that shot? There’s like 1,000 species of you guys, and you all look a lot alike, especially at this angle.

Wait, come back! Please come back. I didn’t mean to insult you, I just wanted to take your picture. Oh well, better luck next time, I hope. I’m going to go shoot some robins, they aren’t as camera shy as you warblers are.

Robin bathing

Then again, maybe they are.

Feathered frustrations

I think any one who has tried to photograph song birds has had days like this. As always, thanks for stopping by!


The fall fireworks begin

I’m not going to bore you with any of my rantings in this post, and nothing I can write would do justice to the beauty that nature puts on display for us this time of year. After two weeks of this…

Threatening skies

The skies have finally cleared, and this is what I got to see as I took my daily hike.

The fireworks of fall foliage

The fireworks of fall foliage

The fireworks of fall foliage

The fireworks of fall foliage

The fireworks of fall foliage

The fireworks of fall foliage

The fireworks of fall foliage

The fireworks of fall foliage

The fireworks of fall foliage

The fireworks of fall foliage

The fireworks of fall foliage

The fireworks of fall foliage

The fireworks of fall foliage

The fireworks of fall foliage

The fireworks of fall foliage

The fireworks of fall foliage

The fireworks of fall foliage

The fireworks of fall foliage

The fireworks of fall foliage

The fireworks of fall foliage

The fireworks of fall foliage

The fireworks of fall foliage

That’s it for this one, but there will be more! We’re still a week or two away from the peak colors of fall!

Thanks for stopping by, I hope you enjoyed the photos as much as I enjoyed taking them.


I have made peace with my Nikon

I have made peace with my Nikon. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I killed another Canon Powershot this summer while kayaking, and was forced to begin using my Nikon D50 until I could afford to replace the Canon.

When I first began using it again, I could not get it to take a good picture, let alone a great picture. The auto-focus seldom focused on the subject I wanted to shoot, many of the pictures came out blurry, and the color rendition for scenery shots was not as good as I would have expected from a Nikon camera. It wasn’t all the camera’s fault.

Once I found out that my ex-girlfriend had the diopter set all the way one direction to make up for her bad eyesight, it helped some as far as getting sharper photos. (Her eyesight must have been really bad, which explains why she would get involved with me 🙂 )

But still, the auto-focus seldom focused on the subject I intended to photograph. It’s funny, but over time, that seems to have fixed itself. A few days ago I was taking a photo of a flower under difficult circumstances as far as getting the auto-focus to focus on the one flower I wanted to capture, and I flipped to manual focus to get the shot. It dawned on me that it was the first time in quite a while that I had needed to switch to manual focus. When I had first started carrying the Nikon on a regular basis, I think that close to 75% of the time, I was switching to manual focus, I had to in order to get anything in focus. I have no explanation for why the auto-focus now works the majority of the time, other than the more I use the camera, the more often the auto-focus has focused correctly.

It isn’t perfect yet, there will be times when I press the shutter release to let the camera do its thing, and the auto-focus will lock on and beep to tell me it is OK to shoot, when the frame is still out of focus, but before I can reach for the manual focus switch, the auto-focus servo will kick in again, bring the frame into focus, and beep a second time. This happens in just a split second, and as long as it is working as it is, I’m a happy camper.

As far as blurry photos, some of that was due to the way I was holding the camera. In my last deer hunting post I referred to myself as the human tripod. One thing I have been known for, whether shooting with a camera, or shooting with a rifle, was my ability to hold steady. Even in a family of excellent marksmen, I was a slightly better shot than all the rest of the family, except for my dad. When it came to photography, I seldom used a tripod when using my old Pentax, even when shooting with a 300 mm lens in low light, and very few of the pictures I took turned out fuzzy. When using my Canon, even zoomed in to 48X, most of my photos come out sharp, but it has image stabilization to help me out, so I can’t take all the credit on that one.

That’s what drove me crazy about the Nikon, so many of my photos came out blurry, as if I wasn’t holding the camera steady. I wasn’t. I wasn’t until I realized that it has a “recoil” when the shutter goes. I don’t know if that’s from the mirror locking up, or from the shutter itself, but, the camera definitely tries to twitch as the it captures an image.

After going for my daily walk today, and shooting more pictures, I am sure the movement comes from the mirror locking up out of the way before the shutter opens and closes. No matter what causes the motion though, I have found that I need to keep a firmer grip on the Nikon, and that doing so has about put an end to the blurred photos. Sometimes it is the simplest of things, like holding the camera correctly.

Remember when you read this, I hand hold my camera 99% of the time, even when shooting with a 300 mm lens with shutter speeds slower than 1/100 of a second. Most experts would say that I am lucky to get any usable photos that way, that a tripod is a must under such conditions. I am sure that using a tripod would make the quality of the photos I take better, but I don’t find many critters willing to sit and pose while I set up a tripod. I like doing things the hard way. That’s going to be the subject of an upcoming post, by the way, why I like doing things the hard way when it comes to wildlife photography.

As far as color rendition, I am getting a handle on that as well. I have come to terms with the fact that the Nikon hates large expanses of green foliage in a photo. The worst photo I can take with it is to walk to the top of a hill, set the lens to 70mm and shoot a photo of a forest lit by direct sunlight. Not a great thing for a nature photographer. The greens are washed out and shifted towards yellow.

It loves the color blue, I shot a few photos of a blue jay on my deck, and they stunned me in how well the Nikon captures blue! But, it hates green, at least in large quantities in bright light. It’s funny, I can zoom in on a single leaf in the shade, and it handles that green very well. If I zoom in on a bird surrounded by green leaves, it handles that very well.

I have found two ways to work around this. The first involves camera settings. If I set the camera to aperture priority, stop the lens down to F11 or smaller, and set the exposure compensation down 1/3 stop for early morning/late afternoon lighting, 2/3rds to a full stop lower for direct midday sun, then I get green foliage, not washed out, faded, yellow foliage.

I don’t like doing that, because I know what’s going to happen. I am going to forget to return the camera settings to no exposure compensation and to the program mode. Then I am going to see a record class whitetail buck, or a wood duck at close range, and miss the photo because the camera was set incorrectly for that shot. Sort of like the old days of film when I would load the Pentax with Kodachrome 25 for scenery shots, and see a critter in a spot so shaded that the shutter speed the Kodachrome film required was way too slow to make the shot worth trying.

My other work around for the washed out greens is to use the nature auto-correct feature of the software that came with the Nikon. One click of the mouse and the washed out, faded, yellowish greens turn green, just as I saw them when I pressed the shutter release. I am loath to do that because I am opposed to digital image manipulation of nature photos. But that begs another question, is it digital image manipulation if all you do is use it to overcome the short comings of your camera, as long as that’s all you do, and you don’t try to alter the reality of what you saw when you pressed the shutter release? I am still struggling with that one. Technically, I have altered some images, but never the reality of what I saw.

I have to admit that I did use that feature on the photos I posted when I hiked Muskegon State Park on the 4th of July. All I had to show for my hike as far as photos were crappy, as I hadn’t been able to afford to replace my Canon at that time. That’s actually my third option for scenery pictures, pull the Canon out of my pocket and use it rather than the Nikon. But, that doesn’t make the photos I take with the Nikon any better, and the Nikon does have some advantages over the Canon, such as being able to shoot more quickly.

Being hard headed, I am going to make the Nikon work as it should. Maybe I should play with some of the other settings, such as white balance. Right now I have it set to auto, the camera chooses the correct white balance for the shot. Maybe I should try setting it to full daylight, and see if that helps with foliage shots. Just a thought.

Here’s an update since I first wrote this, I have tried setting the white balance for the lighting that I am shooting in, rather than have it set to the auto mode. When I am shooting in the shade with the white balance set to shade, it makes an improvement in the quality of the photos I get. However, when I set it for direct sunlight, and shoot in direct sunlight, the colors rendition seems better, but it is hard to tell, as when I shoot with those settings, everything comes out slightly over exposed.

AAAAARrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So tomorrow, I’ll try setting the white balance to direct sunlight, and adjust the exposure compensation down and try again.

An update to the update, I didn’t wait until the next day to try with the Nikon again. I stepped out onto the deck of my apartment and shot a series of photos with the white balance set for direct sunlight, and adjusting the exposure compensation down 1/3 rd of a stop between photos. It was around 1:30 P. M. on a day without a cloud in the sky. It was the kind of day I would consider ideal for landscape photography.

I shot these in the aperture mode with the lens stopped down to F/13 and the shutter speed varied between 1/125 at no exposure compensation down to 1/250 at a full stop lower. Just as I assumed would be the case, at no exposure compensation the photo is overexposed and the color saturation and rendition is weak.

No exposure compensation

Stopping down 1/3 of a stop produced the best exposure, but the color saturation and rendition were still not the best.

-1/3 stop exposure compensation

Stopping down 2/3 of a stop was too much.

-2/3 stop exposure compensation

As was a full stop.

- one full stop exposure compensation

I could have saved myself the trouble and just shot one shot with my Canon Powershot set to everything auto in the program mode.

Taken with a Canon Powershot

The Canon came closet to capturing what I saw when I stepped out on the deck, as is typical when I am shooting in full sunlight. The exposure, color saturation and rendition are excellent!

Oh, and it did happen, of course, it wasn’t a record class whitetail buck or a wood duck, it was a red tailed hawk. I was shooting some foliage shots earlier in the day with the Nikon set as I described earlier for those shots, when a red tailed hawk flew low over my head. I didn’t have time to change the settings, but I did manage to get one good shot of the hawk despite the camera not being set correctly. The other four or five shots came out poorly as the shutter speed was too low to freeze movement.

Red tailed hawk in flight

That’s a shot that is almost impossible for me to get with my Canon though. No matter how much I practice, I can’t follow moving targets in the Canon’s LCD screen, and the shutter lag makes it even worse.

In low light, the Nikon is vastly superior to the Canon as well, which is why most of my deer photos have been taken with the Nikon. In the early morning, late evening, or in deep shade, the Canon can’t come close to the performance of the Nikon.

I am thinking that when I get rich again, I will buy a few more lenses for the Nikon. I need a wide-angle lens, a macro lens, and a longer telephoto lens than I have now.

I suppose I could make up with my ex so I could use the lenses I bought for her. No, that wouldn’t work.

A few months ago, I was seriously considering trading the Nikon in for a new Canon, I’m glad I didn’t. When I get it right, the Nikon does take better photos. As it is now, I get it right more often than not, at least I think so. The Nikon will do things the Canon won’t, such as the birds in flight, or very low light photos, so I will continue to carry both, and use each of them for the photos they do best. It isn’t that big of a deal to carry both, as the Canon fits in a pocket, and is as light or lighter than another lens for the Nikon would be. Keeping the Canon in a pocket is no big deal, it doesn’t work well for action shots, or when I have to shoot quickly anyway, that’s where the Nikon really shines.

I may also find that at least some of the trouble I have had with the Nikon is due to the 70-300 mm lens that I have for it. From reading reviews and talking to other people, the consensus is that the lens I have isn’t one of the best that Nikon has ever produced.

I have even learned to like playing with the camera settings again. The Canon spoiled me, I never change any settings on it, I just point and shoot, and I know what I am going to wind up with. To make up for its poor low light performance, I have used fill-in flash more often, and it works well as long as a subject is close enough. After thirty years of using the totally manual Pentax I have, not having to make any adjustments was kind of nice, for a while.

Since I have been working with the Nikon, I have come to appreciate how much control I can have when I want it. I use the shutter and aperture modes as “presets” for certain types of shooting conditions. On an interesting side note, I didn’t realize until I started this post that I was “forcing” the Canon to come up with the exposure settings I wanted to use in the way I chose the lighting angles and I composed the photos I took with it.

All in all, using both cameras is making me a better photographer, at least I hope it is anyway. And if any one has any suggestions for me as far as getting the Nikon to faithfully reproduce the color green at the shorter focus lengths of the lens I have, I sure would appreciate those as well.

As always, thanks for stopping by!


The last wildflower?

Everyday when I am out, I find myself taking photos of the last few wildflowers I can find, even if I took a number of photos of the same flowers the day before. It won’t be much longer, and the wildflowers will be gone for months, until next spring. Already the goldenrod is dying back, there aren’t many flowers left to photograph. Some of the ones I do find are in pretty sad shape.

A dying bloom

We’ve had several light frosts, but they are predicting a heavy freeze for tonight, that may be the end of the flowers.

I believe these are calico daisy

I’m not sure what they are, but there are a lot of them.

Daisy

They are one of the few flowers left for the bees.

Bee on a daisy

Daisy

Even the thistles are about done.

Thistles

A frost earlier this week finished off these yellow wildflowers.

Yellow wildflower

Oops, shot that one from the wrong side. Is this better?

Yellow wildflowers

Small white wildflowers

I really need a good field guide to start identifying these flowers.

More small white wildflowers

And I’ll finish off with a few more of the daisies.

Daisies

More daisies

I know that they are starting to all look the same, but this is my blog too, and these pictures are going to have to last me until spring.

Daisies

But, I’ll throw in a day lily just for variety.

Day lily

I’m afraid that’s it, not just for this post, but for the season. Oh, I found one more.

Toadstool

That’s not a flower, it’s a toadstool I found near one of the ponds, did it fool you?

Thanks for stopping by.


Internet withdrawal

My first day without Internet service, I am having withdrawal symptoms! I don’t know yet which is worse, the withdrawal symptoms today, or the high level of frustration on a day like yesterday when I had to fight Verizon’s poor wireless Internet service every step of the way. I tried to get several posts ahead, preparing for not having Internet access, and I would be working on a draft when my service would just quit. No warnings, no error messages, I would click to add a photo or to save the draft, and my browser would time out, causing me to lose everything I had done since my last save. Thank goodness that WordPress has an auto save feature or I would have really been frustrated.

I really want to go off on a rant about shoddy products and service, but since this is a nature blog, I won’t. I will only say that I am done paying for shoddy. If a product doesn’t work as advertised, it’s going back for a full refund, or some one is going to die. Services that don’t perform will be shut off, or not rewarded. I really want to check my E-mail and my blog stats! That tells me something about myself I suppose. In return, my blog is telling me a lot about human nature, or I should say, reinforcing what I already suspected about human nature.

As much as I have isolated myself from the rest of the human race, I still like to receive positive feedback from others. When I think about that, I think that it is silly, but there must be something deep within us all that requires that we receive positive feedback from other humans. That isn’t why I started this blog, or is it? I started this blog because I had written several stories that I wanted to remember. As I am getting older, I’m finding that many of my old memories are either fading, or blending together and I am having a harder time keeping things straight. I posted a couple of the stories as notes on Myspace and Facebook, to share with friends. I found that neither of those places were really good for organizing what I was writing, so I started this blog. I copied and pasted some of those first stories as posts to my blog, not so much to see what others thought, but because I had put too much time and effort into them for them to be lost in cyberspace.

I have no delusions that I am a great writer, I doubt if I would ever become one if I tried. However, I think that I am a better than average writer, when I put my mind to it. My blog started as my personal journal, a place for me to record places I go and things I see. I thought that if a few people found them interesting, that it would be great, but that’s not why I started this blog.

At about the same time as I started my blog, I was posting a few photos of mine to the social networking sites as well, and people seemed to like them. So what the heck, I’ll add photos to my blog. I didn’t add many at first, for several reasons. One is that WordPress limits you to 3Gbs unless you pay extra, something I didn’t want to do, at least at first. Another is that I had some one “steal” one of my swan photos from a social networking site and was trying to sell it as their own. I don’t want to add a watermark to my photos, I know I should, but I don’t want the watermark to detract from the photo. I suppose that’s vanity on my part. I came up with the solution of reducing all the photos I upload to public sites down to 800X600 and reducing the quality to the point where they’re not worth stealing. That also helps me to not use up my quota of space on WordPress as well, and now I have a pretty good handle on how long it will be before I have to pay for extra space.

I started another blog in an attempt to sell a few of my photos, just as a way of earning a little extra cash to help me pay for my expenses while I am doing my thing, but that has gone nowhere. I am paid up until February for that site, then it will disappear into cyberspace, never to be seen again.

I’ll admit that I would love to earn a little extra from either of my blogs, but that isn’t going to happen. My blog has evolved from what I began it as, and I have the feeling that it will evolve a lot more in the next few months, but it will never be one of the big time blogs that gets thousands of hits per day and turns into a cash cow. That’s OK, the more I blog, the more I love it.

It is still a record of my outdoor activities, and I have fun going back and reading my earlier posts to jog my memory. The photos help a lot, but I don’t want to turn this into a photo only blog either, although it may seem like where it is going right now.

I have a number of drafts started on more serious issues, I guess you could call them environmental issues, that interest me. I know I am an oddball on that account. I am a hard-core conservative as far as my political views, and people have a hard time reconciling that with how much I love nature. I have been disowned by the environmental movement that I was one of the first to join way back in the early days, when environmentalists really wanted to preserve the environment. Needless to say, there will be much more on that subject over time. Especially since I just finished reading an article in the last issue of the newsletter from the Anglers of the Au Sable, of which I am a member, that was along those lines.

Those posts don’t draw many comments or feedback, even though a surprising number of people read them. They don’t get big numbers when I first post them, but they continue to get hits months after I post them. I think that if I could look it up right now, the two most popular posts of mine over time have been “Confessions of a fly fishing snob” and “Victory for the Pigeon River”.

My posts that get the most views, comments and feedback when they are first posted are the ones with pretty pictures.

Of all the links I have in my posts, the ones that get clicked on the most are the maps that I have generated from my GPS unit of the hiking and kayaking trips I have done. The “how to” pages do OK, not great.

I can tell from the site stats from my blog that people are looking for information on two things, identifying plants and animals they see, and places to hike and/or kayak. I’m not much help on the first, identifying plants and animals. I know most of the mammals, but when it comes to birds, wildflowers, or insects, I am not much help. We had field guides in the house all the time while I was growing up, and I have a couple of my own now, but I spend too much time looking for wildlife, and not enough time identifying what I see. Reading other people’s blogs, I find that I am not the only one who gets frustrated trying to identify warblers for example, but other people are much more determined to make the identification that I am. I can normally identify what family they are in, but I spend more time watching and learning their habits than I do looking up their exact name. I need to spend more time identifying them for my blog.

What I really need is a partner, some one to join me in my excursions who is good at identifying what I find. That’s really tough though, as I find few people who actually want to spend time in nature. Over the years, I have kayaked or hiked with hundreds of people, and for all but a very few, they were all focused on getting to the end. It is like driving with little kids in the car, I heard “Are we there yet?” or “How much farther do we have to go?” way too often.

When I am outdoors, the journey is the important thing to me, the destination is just a spot on the map, nothing more. To me, the whole point of going hiking or kayaking is to spend time outdoors, not to see how fast I can complete a hike or a float. I do go with the flow of the rivers when I am kayaking, I match the personality of the river. On fast rivers I go fast, on moderate rivers I travel at a moderate speed, and I go slowly on slow rivers. But, no matter what speed the river flows at, I want to take the time to look around and see the plant and animal life that live along the rivers, not put my head down and paddle from the put in point to the take out spot.

It’s the same thing when I am hiking, I may do a 10 mile hike, but it takes me all day to complete it. I take my time, stop to watch the birds, to photograph flowers, and enjoy my time in the woods. I don’t care at all how long it takes me, I know I am there for the day.

There have only been two people with whom I did well hiking or kayaking with, Spud and Larri. They were both as likely as I to be kicking over rocks to see what was under them, or to stop and admire the tiny wildflowers growing next to a trail. Spud was pretty good at identifying things, better than Larri, but there was one advantage to being outdoors with her, large blooms of certain wildflowers put her in a romantic mood, if you know what I’m saying. 😉

I’ve never understood the rest of them, they all claim to love being outdoors, but then, why are they in such a hurry to get away from it? That’s a rhetorical question by the way, no need to try and answer it. Part of the reason I don’t have all the information I feel as though I should about some of the kayaking trips I have taken the last few years is that the rest of the group was always in such a hurry that I didn’t have the time to make note of things the way I should have. It seemed as if every time I stopped, some one ahead would flip, or get in some kind of trouble, like getting stuck in a logjam, that I felt I had to stay with the group the entire time.

Back to what people are looking for when they come to my blog. When it comes to places to hike or kayak, I am much better at that. There aren’t many rivers in Michigan’s lower peninsula that I haven’t floated at one time or another in some type of watercraft, at least not on the west side of the state. I am not going to say that I have walked every mile of every trail, although my legs feel like it at times, but I do get around. I could spend all my available blogging time adding pages and posts on hiking and kayaking places, but two things stop me. One is that if I am going to do them, I want to do them right, with photos and maps. Many of the places I’ve been, I have no electronic record of the trips, and I think that the photos and maps tell people much more than my words alone. The other thing that holds me back is that the people who use that information never bother to leave a comment or click the like button to say “Thanks”. Maybe I am being petty, but if I go through all the work of helping people plan their trips, then they should at least have the courtesy of saying thank you.

That gets me back to the site stats and search engine terms people use that bring them to my blog. I hate to admit it, but I do like seeing how popular my blog is becoming. There is a part of me that wants to take this blog in a direction which will make it even more popular than it is now, but there is also the part of me that wants to keep it as just a journal of my times spend in the woods or on the rivers. It is easy to get caught up in the number of hits my blog gets, and trying to post what people are looking for. Then it dawns on me, they are finding my blog the way I have been doing it, and I ask myself, do I want to pander just to run up my stats, or do I want to make this blog what I want it to be?

I know, I have done several similar posts to this one, but it’s my blog, and if I want to pause and reflect on what I am doing here, that’s my prerogative. That’s one reason I didn’t sign up for a new Internet provider before I ended my contract with Verizon, to take a short break. (Some break, one day and I am blogging again, albeit in a word processor rather than online)

Pictures are all well and good, I enjoy photography, and I enjoy sharing my photos with others, just as I enjoy their sharing their photos. I know the photo posts boost the site stats for my blog, but I have been getting lax as far as my writing goes. I need to get back to writing more, and using photos to illustrate the story, rather than have the photos be the entire post, with just a few words to set up the photos.

You should know that I am now on my second day without Internet access. I haven’t written much as you can see, between short bursts of gibberish, I have been doing a lot of thinking about my past posts, and what I want to do in the future, and I think I have come up with a plan.

I have also found out that the apartment complex where I live has added a wi-fi hot spot to the community building, woo hoo! I think that will work out well with what I have in mind, time will tell. When I learned that though, my first thought was to grab my computer and rush over there to get back online, check my E-mail, and site stats for this blog, but I am holding off until I finish this.

So that you know, I’m not planning any major changes in my blog, just tweaking what I have been doing, and coming up with more of a defined style. I do want to do more writing, and using the community building hot spot should work out well. I can do the writing at home, then post from the community building once I have it done.

I have also signed up for the WordPress photo of the week challenge. Once a week, they E-mail a theme, then you have one week to come up with a photo to fit the theme. It sounds like it could be fun, we’ll see. So that’s it for now, as always, thanks for stopping by.


One more quick one, going deer hunting, care to join me?

I am losing my Internet service, if that’s what you want to call it, at midnight. I have several posts in the can, ready to publish over the next few days, even though I have been fighting with my Internet connection all day, which is why I am cancelling it. However, I thought I would do a quick post with some photos from today’s deer “hunt”, care to join me?

The first photo is a maple leaf floating on a creek.

Maple leaf floating on a creek

I love the way the reflection of the clouds overhead turn this one into something special.

Next up, a black-capped chickadee.

Black capped chickadee

I had an even better shot all lined up earlier, but the chickadee flew off as I was pressing the shutter, darn!

Not a nature photo, unless you look at the trees in the background. It’s a model airplane some guys were flying in the park today.

Model airplane in flight

Practicing shooting moving targets again. 🙂

Here’s how you spot deer to stalk.

Whitetail deer hiding behind a fallen tree

That was zoomed in to 300 mm! I only saw the deer because it was twitching its ears.

The result of the first stalk.

Whitetail doe

Another.

Whitetail doe chewing

More light would have been nice, I was shooting at around 1/30 of a second with a handheld 300 mm lens, they don’t call me the human tripod for nothing. You can see her body is sharp, it was her moving her head as she chewed that made her head turn out blurry.

Here she is with one of her two fawns.

Whitetail doe and fawn

The fawn is a button buck. You can just make out the knobs on its head that will be where his antlers start growing next summer. Here’s a better view as he strips a bud from a bush.

Whitetail button buck

And here’s the doe’s other fawn, another button buck! That’s unusual, most twin fawns are one each male and female, this doe gave birth to two bucks.

Whitetail button buck

Here’s another doe.

Whitetail doe

You can see I was close enough to use the flash for these. Here’s her fawn, a doe.

Whitetail fawn

One more of the fawn. I forgot to shut off the flash, even though the fawn stepped into a patch of sunlight.

Whitetail fawn

Ready for some color?

Berries

I did see a whitetail buck, but all I got of it as far as photos were some really poor ones, like this.

Whitetail buck hiding

You can see its hind legs OK, and if you look along the tree in the foreground, you can see one ear and an antler. I played hide and seek with him for at least half an hour, then decided the pathetic rack he had wasn’t worth wasting daylight on, so I moved on.

I spotted this doe a little way down the trail.

Whitetail doe

And here’s one of her shaking her head like a dog.

Whitetail doe

I had seen wood ducks in flight several times this evening, never close enough to shoot though. I did get this poor shot of one male and either females or juveniles.

Wood ducks in a pond

That was all the closer I could get, they flew off right after that shot. The pond was pretty though.

Pretty pond

I did see more deer on my way back to my vehicle, but not even the human tripod can take shots at 1/2 second with a handheld camera. Well…… I can….. and I did, but they are way too blurry for me to post here. 😉  They do make for good practice holding the camera still even if the photos don’t turn out, something I would never have done in the days of film. I love digital photography! It doesn’t matter how many shots I waste, they don’t cost anything.

That wraps up today’s deer hunt. I hope you enjoyed our stroll through the woods, I know I did! Thanks for stopping by!


The return of the drunken raccoon, and other critters

In an earlier post I included a picture of a drunken raccoon, and I have a few more to share with you. I saw the raccoon for the first time a few weeks ago, and now I know where it hangs out, at least when it’s snockered, so I have been looking for it everyday when I do my daily hike around the complex.

I didn’t see it again until the other day, I forget exactly when, but I saw paws sticking out of the hollow tree where I had seen the coon before.

The paws of a drunken raccoon

Since it’s a still photo, you can’t see the paws shaking, or how unsteadily the raccoon was moving its limbs as to tell me the coon was drunk again. I stood there patiently in the rain, and sure enough, the raccoon came out for some fresh air.

Drunken raccoon

He stuck his head out almost all the way long enough for me to get this one.

Drunken raccoon

Then it went back in the hollow tree. I thought about waiting for it again, but it was raining too hard to stick around for very long.

Then there was this squirrel gathering nuts.

Fox squirrel

It didn’t stick around long after it heard my camera.

Fox squirrel's tail disappearing under a pine

Oh, those were taken today, after the storm that has been stuck over the top of us for the last two weeks has finally moved off. That goes for this one too, a young herring gull.

Herring gull in flight

Herring gulls are plentiful around here, especially during the fall and winter when they move inland from Lake Michigan. I don’t normally photograph them, but the bright blue sky for the first time in weeks was too much to resist, and it made a good practice shot for shooting moving subjects. Here’s another.

Herring gull in flight

Look at that sky! There have been times during our cloudy winters, which last from November to March, that when we do get a sunny day, I have taken pictures of just blue sky to remind myself that they do happen.

I hate to, but I have to go back to the cloudy days for the next couple, starting with a great blue heron.

Great blue heron

I would have liked to have gotten closer to it, the coloring of this one seemed more pronounced than some of the others I have photographed. If it hadn’t been so windy, the reflections in the pond would have been great too.

I also found this lone horned grebe in one of the ponds here.

Horned grebe in fall plumage

Grebes are rather plain birds in the fall after the mating season is over, I’d like to find a pair here during that time of year.

I’ll finish off with a painted turtle.

Painted turtle

They are migrating too. I have seen several around here looking for a place to burrow in and spend the winter.

That’s it for now, thanks for stopping by!


Honoring the fallen (Leaves)

I hope no one takes offense at my title for this post, as the son of some one who served in the Air Force, and the brother of a retired Airman, I don’t mean to make light of the sacrifices members of the armed services have made. This post is photos of fallen leaves. “Why?”, you may ask. Well, we’ve had two weeks of crappy weather as far as photography is concerned. There has been a cut-off low over Michigan for what seems like forever, with cloudy skies most of the time, and rain showers on and off the entire time. I can’t remember the last day it was that I got in an entire hike without getting rained on at least a little. That, and it is still early in the fall for the peak of the fall foliage.

This is also a post that I am going to whip out while I still have Internet access at home. Sunday, October 3rd is the last day of my poor Verizon Wireless Internet Access, I refuse to pay $60 per month for slow, unreliable service. So I am going to do several posts now, save them as drafts, then publish them when I get to a wi-fi hotspot from time to time.

Here goes, the pictures are self-explanatory, mostly fallen maple leaves that I found on the ground that were too colorful to pass by without capturing their beauty.

Fallen maple leaf

Fallen maple leaf

Fallen maple leaf

Fallen maple leaf

Fallen maple leaf

Fallen maple leaf

Fallen maple leaf

Fallen maple leaf

You can see that many of the leaves were wet from all the rainy days we’ve had. We didn’t get a lot of rain as far as the overall amount, but it rained lightly on and off for almost two full weeks. At least the creeks and ponds are filling up a little.

Floating leaves

Floating leaves

I know, they’re not great photos, but this is the type of weather we’ve been having around here.

fall storm

A small hole opened up in the clouds, just enough to make that shot possible. But, back to the fallen, even the maple seeds are getting into the act.

Maple seeds

Sometimes I took “group” shots.

Fallen leaves

Fallen leaves

Fallen leaves

And finally, my favorite one.

Fallen maple leaf

It’s hard to believe that nature can pack that many colors into one lone leaf! To prove that I could play with digital image manipulation like most photographers, I did this to it.

Digitally altered maple leaf

I much prefer the subtle, delicate beauty of the real thing, and I’ll have more to say about that in some upcoming posts.

As always, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read my blog!