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

Archive for February, 2012

The snowy owl trip, with bald eagles as a bonus

Well, I did it. I went to Muskegon today to visit the wastewater treatment facility to look for snowy owls, and I found one, and a whole lot more to boot! I’m not exactly sure where to start, so I guess I’ll start with a blurb from the Michigan Audubon’s website about the facility.

“Muskegon County operates a huge, 11,000 acre, Wastewater Management System that is one of the best birding sites in the state. If the name didn’t alert you, be prepared for a fragrant visit. This site is home to huge numbers of waterfowl and gulls during migration and also attracts large numbers of shorebirds. In the fields used as spraying areas you can find raptors and open-country birds. Many rarities are often found here. While you’re in the area, check out the nearby Muskegon State Game Area.”

And, here’s a map of the area, courtesy of the Michigan DNR. The place is huge, and only a small area is used for treating sewage, the rest is mostly farm land with a few woodlots here and there.

There are two other things I have to say before I get to the photos, one is that the place is a birder’s heaven, and I don’t know why, but none of the pictures I took with either of my cameras came out as well as they should have, luckily, the snowy owl photos are the best of them!

Oh! One other thing, you’re supposed to have a pass to be on the facility, but they are only available during the week. If you want to go there on a weekend, you have to arrange for a pass in advance. You must obtain a permit from the Administration Office as you drive into the facility. The office is closed on weekends so a permit must be obtained in advance. Contact: 231-724-3440 to arrange to have a pass left for you to pick up at the administration building.

OK, so how do you find a snowy owl in a 11,000 acre facility? You drive around until you spot the crowd of photographers taking pictures of them!

Photographers "stalking" a snowy owl

Then, you walk up to the owl, and start taking photos yourself.

Snowy owl

There’s one of the Snowy owls that is known for being a ham, and posing for photographers. The only thing is, he seldom opens his eyes all the way.

Snowy owl

He is a cutie, isn’t he?

Snowy owl

It is quite the social event, there will be groups of photogs there, alternately snapping photos, and holding conversations with their fellow photographers.

Snowy owl

All the while, the owl sits there squinting into the sun, listening to the conversations going on around him. When he hears that you’re all talking and not paying attention, it moves a little ways away so that you will return your focus to him!

Snowy owl

Then he sits there until a sufficient more number of photos are taken.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

I don’t know what this guy was shooting.

Snowy owl photographer

I was using my 70 to 300 mm lens for these photos, the guy with the BIG lens was even closer, and telling the rest of us to be quiet and not get as close as he was or we would scare the owl away. After all he was wearing camo. I almost cracked up laughing at that one. He’s wearing dark camo in a snow covered field, his camo was flapping in the wind like a tattered flag, and he’s telling us to be quiet? I have some news for the guy with the BIG lens, even a squinting owl could see you sticking out like a sore thumb when you’re only 50 feet from the owl. What a hoot! And that lens at 50 feet, what was he doing, checking to see if the owl had fleas or mites or something?

That’s something I have to mention, the wind. It was nasty out there! That may have had something to do with the other big story of the day, which I’ll get to later. I was only out of my vehicle for a short time, and I was chilled to the bone by the wind. The rest of us there retreated to our vehicles to warm up, while the guy with the BIG lens kept inching closer to the owl, until it took off.

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

And the owl perched where I could shoot it from my vehicle nicely.

Snowy owl

My, what big feet they have!

Snowy owl

You can tell how windy it was, the wind was trying to blow the feathers off from the owls chest!

The guy with the BIG Lens tried sneaking up on the owl wearing his wrong color camo again, and again the owl flew off.

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl's rough landing

You may or may not be able to tell from the pictures, but the owl basically circled those of us sitting in our vehicles, giving us great photo-ops, while staying clear of the guy with the BIG lens and his camo. I like that owl! As much fun as it was watching the owl give the guy with the BIG lens a hard time, I decided to drive around a few of the roads to see what else I could find, and it was considerable.

The other story of the day was that I couldn’t get a sharp picture from either of my cameras, other than the owl pics, and they’re not that great. I saw so many species of birds that I have never photographed before, and the photos I took today came out like crap, could be because I was at a sewage plant, I don’t know. Here are just a few examples.

American kestrel

Horned lark

Common goldeneye duck

Green winged teal and mallard

I spotted what looked to be a flock of eagles.

Bald eagle in flight

And I got this shot of two unidentifiable birds and an eagle.

Bird attack

Then this shot of a mature and immature eagle together on the ground.

Eagles on the ground

And lots of eagles in the air.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

I’m not completely happy with any of the shots in this post, the owl pics came out OK, but they should have been better. When I first did the download from my Nikon, I thought that because I had switched from spot metering to center weighted, it was up to its old tricks again. But, I took a few back-up photos with my Canon just in case, and they all came out crappy as well. As I am typing this, it dawned on me that several times when I was either walking, or had the windows in the explored down, it felt like I was being snowed on. There was hardly a cloud in the sky, and I never saw snow other than that which was being driven by the wind. But thinking about it now, I’ll wager there was more snow blowing around than than I could see, and all those little ice crystals in the air are what caused my photos to come out as poorly as they did.

Since this is about the snow owl, I’ll finish up with one more of him being the ham that he is.

Snowy owl

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


My Week…Lucky me! Thursday to Saturday

Sunday

You can find a stand alone post about Sunday’s hike in Aman Park, here.

Monday

Monday’s installment has been moved here. It includes the quiet swans, mallards and other songbirds.

Tuesday

Tuesday’s installment can be found here. It’s the one with the mean swans picking on the geese.

Wednesday

Wednesday’s installment can be found here. The quiet swans return, dredging the bottom of the pond with a stick, along with sharp shinned and red-tailed hawks.

Thursday

Just as I thought, as soon as I started breaking this week up into daily posts, the action went dead around here. That’s OK, I need the break!

I messed up and posted Wednesday’s post before it was done, I was in a hurry to save it before work and clicked the wrong button. It was almost finished, all I had left to add were a few photos from when some one dropped an overly caffeinated chickadee bomb on me. There were chickadees everywhere, and all running at hyper-speed! I have posted many photos of them before, and there will be more in the future, so no need to add them now.

Other than that, it was a strange day in a way. When I first woke up, the lighting outside had a surreal quality to it, we had gotten some snow overnight, there was sunshine trying to burn through a high fog, I really wanted to get out there and capture the light, but had other things to do first. Like drink some coffee in hopes I can keep up with chickadees! Yeah, right.

By the time I did make it out for my walk, the fog had set in to the point where it was just a grey, dreary day. That’s really a shame, it would have been breathtaking out there if we had gotten some sun. I have noted many times this winter that we had gotten flash freezes, that’s where a storms starts as rain, then it turns cold, everything freezes, and we get a little snow to go with the ice. In fact, as I write this on Friday, we have had yet another one! But, back to Thursday.

All the swans were gone, both the pair that have been here the most, and the second pair that were just here for a day, and to provide me with some great photos! Today was an “almost” kind of day. I almost got a photo of a muskrat, but it dove just as I shot, so all I go was its tail. I almost got a great shot of a turkey roosting, but it heard me at the last second and ran off.

Side note, yet another reason to dislike the Red Wing hiking boots I have been wearing. Their super hard soles that will last forever make it very difficult to be quiet while walking! I am finding that I have a hard time sneaking up on critters when I am wearing them.

Back to my walk, other than the miniature ice formations that were everywhere…

Ice hanging from a single pine needle

Ice drop

…there wasn’t much to photograph. And, the ice would have been so much more impressive with some sun. Oh well, I did shoot this picture of the geese, not so much for the geese as the pattern of the ripples on the water.

Canadian geese and ripples

I know that there’s a term for the effect that the ripples have, it is both bothersome and pleasing to the mind at the same time, but I can’t remember what that term is.

Truth is, I am a bit burned out from the beginning of the week. Getting all those photos, cropping, and selecting which ones to use, trying to get it all into my blog, and trying to come up with some kind of format has left me worn out in a way. It was nice just to go for a walk and not shoot 150 photos, at least for one day.

I’m not happy with the way that I have presented this week so far, the daily posts are chopped up crap that are only good as far as the photos I have gotten. I know that I forgot many of the things that I wanted to be sure to write about, which was the reason for starting the weekly series in the first place. I’ll keep plugging away at it, I’m sure that as I work this out that it will get better! I don’t do mediocre! At least I try not to. I am open to suggestions on how to improve my blog.

Enough of that, on to Friday

Friday

The fog from yesterday gave way to rain showers last night, they were predicting a major snowstorm, at least 6 inches of snow, possibly a foot. As of when I went to bed very early this morning, just before 4 AM, we hadn’t gotten more than a dusting of snow. The snow picked up quite a bit after that, as I woke up to several inches of it coating everything outside in a layer of white. Yet another flash freeze, we must have had at least a dozen this winter, maybe more. Seems like I keep typing that over and over again. The wind is picking up, it is trying to blow the snow off from the trees, but the snow is frozen in place. It looks like the first snowfall of the year, yet one more time.

Things are back to normal, I am now finally all caught up with my photos and this blog, the snow plows aren’t clearing the  snow from the apartment complex, I have had a bite to eat washed down with much coffee, and I am ready for what the day will bring.

I’m back, and I guess I lied, we didn’t have a flash freeze, we have several inches of slush covered by several more inches of snow that is becoming slush. It’s a wet, sloppy mess out there.

I didn’t take many photos, I will get around to downloading the few that I did take tonight when I get home from work. It was snowing, the wind was blowing, and large chunks of the snow stuck to the trees was being blown off, so to protect the camera, it stayed inside my parka for most of the walk. I got dumped on a couple of times by large masses of snow coming off from the trees! It was hard to see much anyway, with the wind blowing the snow around, it does sting the eyes.

It was a good walk, I did see a few critters, mostly birds, and how in the heck do they manage to see while flying in a snowstorm? Aren’t their eyes bothered by snowflakes the way mine are? I guess not, there were a few ducks and geese flying around, and the original pair of swans are back in their pond, oh, and the ever present herring gulls.

Since I didn’t take many photos, and I’m not sure if any will even make into this entry, it gives me some time to do a snowy owl update. I am sure most of you are aware that large numbers of young snowy owls have come south this winter. Earlier, I was dead set on tracking one down and getting a photo. However, when I read that one had died of starvation near the Kalamazoo airport, I gave up that quest, even though I had a fairly good idea where to go to see one. I am not going to go chasing some poor bird down that is bordering on starvation, just so I can get a photo of it. From other local area bloggers, and other sources, I knew there were a number of snowy owls hanging around the Muskegon wastewater facility, many photos of them have been showing up around here.

Last week, I read an article online from the Muskegon Chronicle, all about the snowy owls that are wintering there, and it turns out that it isn’t that rare for them to do so. Large numbers of photographers set up there, waiting for the owls to show up. The workers there, and visiting owl experts who monitor the owls every winter, report that they are in good shape this year. Good news!

I had been planning a trip there until the owl in Kalamazoo died, now that I know the owls in Muskegon are doing OK, I am going to try to make it over there one of these weekends before the owls return home to northern Canada. If the weather forecast is correct, I may do that on Sunday.

Speaking of the weather, the ups and downs are forecast to continue. All this slush and snow we’re getting today is supposed to be gone again by Wednesday, when it is predicted that the highs will be near 50 degrees again, just in time for another storm and cool down. We’ll see. After that, the real warm up is forecast, with highs in the 50’s and maybe even some 60’s, won’t that be nice! Spring is on its way!

Saturday

Spring may be on its way, but we’re dealing with a dose of winter right now. The storm from yesterday had about ended, then the lake effect machine kicked in for one of the few times this year, and I had a long, miserable night at work, made longer and even more miserable by the fact that I stopped on my way home to do my grocery shopping.

The lake effect machine is still at it off and on, it was looking quite nice outside, even a little sunshine as I drank coffee, ate breakfast, and watched the squirrels and hawk outside my window. Now, it is snowing again.

Since it’s snowing, I thought I would take care of some business, like starting laundry and paying some bills online. I found that Fatcow had billed my credit card for another year of website hosting, even though I had my account set not to be automatically billed. That didn’t come as a complete shock, it seems to be the way that businesses operate these days, if you can’t make money above board, cheat your customers with stealth tactics. I can’t complain too much about Fatcow, their website hosting seemed to be a quality operation, even if their low come on rates are actually just that, advertised low rates to get you to sign up, once you do, you learn the true cost of their service. After some time on hold, a very nice young man told me the charges would be reversed, they had better be.

So, now it is already after noon, and I am still fooling around indoors, it looks like the snow may be letting up, at least for a while, we’ll see.

Waiting for a while allowed the sun to come out for part of my hike, there was snow and clouds at other times, and all the time, there was a bone chilling wind blowing.

One of the times while the sun was out, I shot some more glistening ice photos.

Ice

Ice

Then, it occurred to me that I should try to capture one of the water drops dripping from the ice, not an easy task, but I did manage this one.

Water dripping from ice

It looks better if you click on it to see it full size.

I was going to try for a better shot, when the entire chunk of snow and ice came crashing down, I did get a photo of that, but I won’t bore you with it.

With the dripping ice gone, I turned around just in time to see one of the sharp shinned hawks go screaming past, I was slow with the camera and all I got were very bad photos of it behind the tree branches.

A little farther along, I played hide and seek with a pair of turkeys that were using one of the carports as a place to get out of the wind, and their feet out of the snow on the ground.

Turkeys dunking into a carport

The wet sticky snow on the ground was also sticking to the turkey’s legs, you can see a little of that in the photo. I’ll bet standing on dry pavement in the carport felt good to them. This is the kind of day that it was.

Blue sky and clouds

One of the fox squirrels was basking in the sun.

Fox squirrel basking in the sun

The wind was forming interesting patterns in the snow.

Wind blown snow

I stopped at the first pond of the day, nothing but a few mallards, didn’t even shoot them. Then, at the next pond, I saw a pair of geese in the snow.

Canadian geese

And on the other side of the pond, a lone swan.

Lone mute swan

Almost as if on cue, it started running on the water for take off.

Mute swan taking flight

It takes them a while to build up speed.

Mute swan taking flight

Mute swan taking flight

Eventually it got airborne.

Mute swan taking flight

Mute swan in flight

unfortunately, some of my best shots of it actually flying were obscured by tree branches and not very good. I’m throwing this one in anyway, for how would you like to look out the window of your apartment and see this!

Mute swan flying past an apartment

Then the clouds rolled back in.

Clouds

I did see a few robins trying to stay warm in the wind, I tried very hard to get a good shot of this one…

American robin

…but that’s the best of a bad lot. I’m not sure why, I walked in an arc around the robin trying different lighting angles and switching between clouds and blue sky for a background, but nothing seemed to work today. The reason I worked so hard for a photo of a robin is that this one was in one of the trees that the birds have ignored up until now. I think it is because they have finished off almost all the berries on the trees they have been feeding on.

The only other photo I took was this one of waterfowl tracks from one of the ponds to the evergreens around the ponds.

Waterfowl tracks in the snow

I have seen this around here many times, the ducks and geese both huddle under the evergreens when it is snowing hard, and at night. I don’t recall having ever seen that happen anywhere other than here. But, maybe that’s one of the things you can learn by walking the same place day after day.

You may not have guessed it from the photos and my story so far, but it was a strangely quiet day around here today. I don’t know if it is because I was out there later than normal, or because of the nasty wind. I saw and heard a few tweety birds, but not many, nothing like it is normally around here.

The only other thing of note is that my legs were just getting used to the Red Wing hiking boots I have been using the last few weeks, and I stepped on a liquor bottle buried in the snow, and rolled my ankle, like it needed that. This place used to be kept spotless, but I’m not going on the rant now.

Three quiet days in a row, that’s unusual around here, but I needed that in order to get caught up. It was a very good week, and I took some great photos if I do say so myself. I’m not completely happy with the way that this weeks entry is turning out, but I’ll keep working on it until I get it right.

I haven’t decided yet about going snowy owl hunting in Muskegon tomorrow, I’ll decide when I see what the weather is going to really be, and not what they are predicting. I’d like to get an early start for a change, but I’ve got some cooking to do before I can go. That’s one thing I dislike about working second shift, I miss early morning excursions outdoors.

First light is my favorite time of the day, and the way my life is now, I seldom get the chance to enjoy that. I need to win the lottery and quit working for a living. 😉

Well, that’s it for this week, hopefully next week’s installment will work out better, with many great photos as well. Thanks for stopping by!


My Week…Lucky me! Tuesday

Tuesday

Sure enough, it was snowing when I woke up, now it appears to be a light drizzle falling, so we’ll see what I come up with today.

What the heck do I know anyway? I shot over 100 pictures again today, including some of the best action shots I have ever taken, go figure.

The day started off much like I thought that it would be, I hadn’t gone ten feet when the drizzle began, and I slipped the camera into my parka with me. I was trying to stalk a few of the many birds that were singing, including a number of cardinals, but all I came up with is these two pine cones joined together.

Pine cones stuck together

I wasn’t able to get close enough to any of the birds, I did take two terrible shots of a cardinal, but they were so bad that I deleted them.

It was chilly out there today, a stiff southeast wind, which usually means a storm is on the way. That and the drizzle were enough to make me decide to pull my hood up. That of course blocked out the sound of two mute swans flying towards me, I didn’t hear or see the until they were so close that there was no way to get the camera out of my parka in time. I thought that my chances of any swan photos were nil for the day. Little did I know what was to come.

I got to the largest creek here, and even that seemed dead today, my mood was getting as dreary as the weather as far as what I thought my chances for any photos were. I turned around to continue on my way, and spotted a swan in a different pond than what they have been in so far. I wondered to myself how they had managed to get past me and into that pond when I had just seen them flying in the opposite direction just a few minutes before that. I didn’t bother with any photos, too far away, and what light there was, was all wrong.

I continued on, I did look over at the pond from another vantage point, and saw two swans this time, and two Canadian geese as well. I shot a quick photo of them all in the same frame, thinking that it would be an OK photo, and it was. Little did I know what was to come.

I stopped at the pond where the swans had been up until now, there were the usual mallards, and a herring gull. I have never seen a herring gull in the water around here, I see thousands of them, but always in flight. This one took off and made a few laps around the pond….

Herring gull in flight

Then landed in the pond again.

Herring gull landing

By now I had circled the pond where the swans were today, they were all the way across the pond from me, but as I stood there watching them, I began to think that they weren’t the same two as had been around before, the two that had flown over me earlier. Luckily, they swam over to give me a closer look.

Mute swan

That one looked like it could have been one of the same as before…

Mute swan

…but that one definitely is a different one, it is a younger swan that hasn’t turned completely white yet. Hmmm.

The geese started honking, nothing unusual about that…

Canadian geese

…kind of an OK photo, I caught the goose’s tongue out. Little did I know what was to come.

I backed away from the pond for the time being, going around the other side of the buildings to check out the last of the ponds here, then returned to the pond with the swans and geese. The geese were honking, or at least one goose was.

Canadian goose

I think that it was part of its courtship display, as it was doing a little dance of sorts, alternately lifting one wing, then the other as it continued to honk.

Canadian geese

And honk!

Canadian geese

I guess all that honking was more than the swans could take from what happened next!

Mute swan running for take-off

Mute swan running for take-off

It was awesome! I could hear those big webbed feet slapping the water with every stride! The whoufe…whoufe…whoufe of their wings with every beat! And the sounds of the water splashing in the wake they were leaving behind them!

Mute swan running for take-off

Once they were airborne, I could hear the whistle from their wings as well.

Mute swan in flight

The just got airborne, then set their wings to land again.

Mute swans landing

Mute swans landing

Mute swans landing

Mute swan just after landing

The geese watched this with great interest!

Canadian geese watching swans

I could tell by the body language of the cob (male swan) that he was ticked off about something! On his way towards the geese, he paused for a moment to run off some totally innocent mallards who just happened to be in his path.

Mute swan chasing mallards

Then, he headed towards the geese again.

Mute swan menacing Canadian geese

The Swan and the male goose went eyeball to eyeball with one another.

Mute swan menacing Canadian geese

The geese had gone completely silent as soon as the swan had made its intentions known. However, the male goose seemed to want to show his mate that he wasn’t scared of no swan!

Mute swan and Canadian goose in a standoff

Mute swan and Canadian goose in a standoff

Then, the females arrived to defuse the situation.

Mute swans and Canadian geese

Eventually, the swans retreated to their corner of the pond, leaving the geese to take up their courtship where they had left off, before the swans had so rudely interrupted them.

Canadian geese courting

Canadian geese courting

Canadian geese courting

That last one was one more than the swans could stand, for flying back across the pond they came!

Mute swan landing

Mute swan landing

Mute swan landing

Mute swan landing

The cob made sure that everything around the pond knew that he was the boss!

Mute swan

And took off after the geese again.

Mute swan

Only this time, he didn’t let the ice stop him.

Mute swan

He pushed hiself up on the ice, and headed towards the geese on foot!

Mute swan menacing geese

The geese decided that discretion was the better part of valor.

Mute swan menacing geese

And made for the other side of the pond, away from the swans.

Canadian goose taking off

Canadian goose in flight

Canadian goose landing

Canadian goose landing

Where they resumed there courtship yet another time.

Canadian geese courting

Canadian geese courting

Canadian geese courting

I really wanted to hang around longer and observe what happened, but I had been there for some time, and it was getting late. I headed home, deep in thought.

I was so deep in thought about what I had just witnessed that I darned near stepped on a fox squirrel, which scared the crap out of both of us. I did get a shot of its tail just for the heck of it, not that I am going to post it here.

It’s been an incredible two days here as far as photos.  And, the weather forecast has changed, surprise, surprise, no rain or snow tomorrow, maybe even some sun, so, on to Wednesday.

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


My Week…Lucky me! Wednesday

Wednesday

Before I even start on today, last night, as I was coming home from work right around midnight, I saw a heron hunting in the pond at the entrance to the apartment complex! At least I assume it was hunting. That pond is very well lighted at night, but I didn’t know herons were at all nocturnal. I should have parked somewhere and investigated further, but I didn’t want to bother the heron. I’m not positive which species of heron it was. It looked small for a great blue, but didn’t look like a green heron as far as how it was positioned. I’ll have to go there and see if it is still around.

Who knows what today will bring? The sun is out, sort of. There’s a layer of high thin clouds, a perfect day for photography! After the last two, one with bright direct sunlight, the other a cloudy dreary day, and taking well over 200 photos, what do you want to bet that I’ll return with very few today when the light’s perfect?

I am in a terrible predicament, I step out the door, and critters are coming at me from every direction at once, and I don’t know when to stop shooting photos.

Today, it starts with a fox squirrel, then, 4 different hawks of two species soaring overhead, swans and geese getting along, a swan using tools, mallards, chickadees, I don’t know what to do.

On top of that, I got a healthy raise at work! Not as much as I would have liked, but enough to actually live on.

Like I said, my walk today started out with a fox squirrel stalking me.

Fox squirrel

OK, so it wasn’t stalking me, it just looked that way when I first saw it. Then, it decided to perform a few tricks for the camera.

Fox squirrel hanging under a branch

A little farther into my walk, I was thinking that I seldom saw any wildlife in that particular area, when one of the sharp shinned hawks went soaring past me.

Sharp shinned hawk in flight

That shot was actually taken on one of its other passes past me, none of the shots from the first pass it made turned out well, and I had an idea that they weren’t going to be worth posting. I was some what bummed about that, and the fact that the hawk seemed to be going places and wouldn’t be back, when I saw a red-tailed hawk that was circling.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Then, it gets really confusing, because as I was photographing that one, I saw its mate also circling low.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

And, both of the sharp shinned hawks were back and circling as well! I was going crazy, trying to pick out which one of the four hawks was on a pass that would bring it the closest to me, get the camera on it, get a few shots, then pick the next one to shoot. My back and neck got a great work out with me looking up and swiveling around to get these, I completely lost track of which hawk was which, other than the species.

Sharp shinned hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Sharp shinned hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Needless to say, I shot dozens of photos, until all four of the hawks eventually moved on, so much for never seeing any wildlife in that area!

The cloud formations were quite beautiful, so I snapped a few photos of them.

Clouds and blue skies

Snowstorm on the horizon

That’s the snowstorm we were predicted to get, but it stayed well south of here.

There was nothing more than a few mallards in the first pond I came to, but in the second one, the swans and geese were getting along today, nothing like yesterday at all.

Mute swans and Canadian geese

The two swans are the original couple that have been around here for some time now.

Mute swans

Mute swans

The mallards were all sleeping.

A flock of mallards sleeping in the grass

I think that they were depending on the geese to be their early warning system.

Canadian goose

But, neither the geese or the swans made a sound. Maybe they had already had a conversation before I got there and had all decided the quiet was the rule of the day, unlike yesterday.

Eventually one of the mallards heard the shutter of my camera going or something, he woke up and alerted the rest of the flock.

Mallards waking up

Then I saw something I’m not sure what to make of.

Mute swan with stick

The female swan would pick the stick up from the bottom of the pond, move it around a little, then drop it.

Mute swan, no stick

Then she would feed in the area where she had dropped the stick for a short time, then pick the stick up again.

Mute swan with stick

She did that repeatedly.

Mute swan dropping stick

Every time after she finished her little feeding binge, I could see her looking for the stick again, then pick it up.

Mute swan with stick

Mute swan, no stick

It sure looked to me as if she were using the stick as a tool to stir up stuff from the bottom of the pond for her to feed on. This went on for ten minutes or so, in the meantime, another male mallard joined the flock.

Male mallard landing

Male mallard landing

Male mallard landing


My Week…Lucky me! Monday

Monday

I am already way behind on this week’s post, and I took close to 100 good photos today during my walk. In my long-winded way, I am saying that I have to tweak this series somewhat, start doing other posts again, and get some other things straight in my head.

Starting out, I couldn’t help but notice how large some of the buds in the maple trees are getting.

Buds on a maple tree

I believe those are flower buds, and what the fox squirrels have been feeding on in some of the photos I have posted recently.

As you can see, it was a great day, but cold when I started, the overnight low was in the teens. Because of that, much of the open water on the ponds, and even the areas with a slow flow in the creeks had frozen with a thin layer of ice.

Ice and cattails

I was so busy shooting pictures that I didn’t have time to do much thinking, as I was checking the pond for more photo-ops, three geese flew past.

Canadian geese in flight

That’s my bad action shot of the day, I did shoot a few of crows flying low, but those are too bad to post.  Then at the next pond is where the swans have been, and they are still hanging around. Each one of the pair was in its own small patch of open water.

Mute swan

Mute swan

I know they are an invasive species, but they sure are beautiful birds!

Mute swan and reflection

Mute swan and reflection

Mute swan stretching its wings

Mute swan stretching its wings

Mute swan

Then one decided to play icebreaker and plow through the ice to reach some of the other open water.

Mute swan breaking ice

It finally made it through the ice field…

Mute swan

..and started feeding.

Mute swan

A pair of mallards swam over to join the swans.

Male mallard on ice

The footing was treacherous.

Male mallard on ice

The female thought it better to stick to one spot.

Female mallard on ice

While the male continued his walk.

Male mallard on ice

I heard the ice creaking and groaning, the second swan had gotten up on the ice with the ducks.

Mute swan on ice

But, that didn’t last long, the swan was too heavy for the thin ice…

Mute swan falling through the ice

The female mallard saw that, and found a little hole in the ice to sit in.

Female mallard

The swan that fell through the ice broke its way to join the other, and they both were feeding.

Mute swan reaching under the ice for food

A closer view.

Mute swan reaching under the ice for food

That sure looks cold to me!

Next stop was the largest of the creeks here, and the mallards were behaving differently than they have in months.

Mallards nesting?

I have noted in the last few posts how the mallards have been staying back in the brush along the creeks almost 100% of the time. Suddenly, they were spread out, up on the banks of the creek, in the tall grass, flying around the ponds, everywhere I looked, I saw mallards! I think the females are looking for nesting spots. I hate to admit this, but I shot some duck porn on Sunday, I am not sure I will post the photos of that, I haven’t been able to confirm that the participants were at least 18 years of age yet. (Truth is, the photos were taken at some distance, and I haven’t had the time to get them ready to post)

Last year, we had ducklings all over the place, but it was rather sad to see the numbers in each brood drop one by one as the little fuzzballs became food for the predators that live here as well. I have said it before, nature isn’t always pretty, but it is what it is, and it is always interesting. I also shot this one at the creek.

Ice on a branch in a creek

Next up, a pair of mourning doves, and I can’t tell which is which as far as male and female.

Mourning dove

I know they are nesting, as I have been seeing them head into the evergreens around here with nest materials in their beaks.

Mourning dove

These two seemed to be taking a break to enjoy the sunshine.

Mourning dove

Next up, a downy woodpecker.

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

As I was shooting those, a flock of turkeys strolled past.

Turkeys

I looked up at the woodpecker again, and it was giving me the perfect pose, but it flew off before I could capture that shot. I was also hoping for better turkey photos, thinking I would run into the flock again later in my walk, but they turned off in another direction I guess.

Then it was on to one of the other creeks, and this shot of the ice covering it.

Ice covered creek

Next up, one of those things that leave me scratching my head.

Berries in the wrong tree

Those berries didn’t grow in the tree they were hanging in, they grow on these bushes.

Berries where they belong

So, I’ll keep an eye or two peeled when I am in that area to try to figure out what may have transported the berries to the other tree. It could have been a bird, or squirrel, raccoon, or who knows, even a human.

I had seen robins earlier, they are still hanging around, but when I got to the trees they normally feed in, there was a flock of cardinals there instead.

Male northern cardinal

I know I went heavy on the photos again today, but I may not be getting many for some time to come. We’re supposed to get snow changing to rain, changing to snow, changing to rain for the forecasted future. There’s no sunshine predicted at all for the next 8 days, so good photos will be hard to come by.

That’s it for this one, Tuesday’s installment will be coming up shortly, with some great action shots, you won’t want to miss it. (Boy, do I sound like a huckster or what?)

Thanks for stopping by!


My Week…Lucky me! Sunday

Sunday

This week’s installment of “My Week…” is getting way too long already, and I have tons of great photos that I was going to put in stand alone posts, but rather than do that, I am going to do this week as daily posts, at least until my luck runs out.

It is bright and sunny, but still cool outside yet, and I am having a hard time getting motivated. Part of that is simple, I haven’t had anything to eat yet this morning and my energy level is way down, but, there’s more to it than that.

Some of it is because of the “winter doldrums” which may sound funny considering that we haven’t had much of a winter here. But, it has been brown outdoors since November, and I am ready for spring and lush, vivid green growth! I am so ready for the flowers and migrating birds to return!

Part of my lack of motivation has to do with making a decision as to where to go today. Several commenters have reminded me how lucky I am to live where I see so much wildlife on a daily basis, how my schedule permits me to do the daily walks I take, and capture the photos that I do. But, I want more, I suppose I’m greedy. I am by nature a traveller, even if it is only a day trip somewhere. I miss not being able to do that any longer, or for the time being anyway.

My poor old Ford Explorer is falling apart on me, and I can neither afford to repair or replace it at this time, so I have to make it last, and that means driving it as little as possible. I would love to be putting an itinerary together of all the places I want to go this spring, summer, and fall. A kayaking trip to Ludington State Park, a long weekend at the new Rockport State Park, a week in the Pigeon River Country, but I doubt if many of them will happen this year.

They say that familiarity breeds contempt, that isn’t the way I feel about my daily hikes, but I do want more.

I’ve done a dumb thing and stuck out the crummy job that I have until I am close to being fully vested in the pension plan, and getting two weeks paid vacation. I hate to admit it, but I am getting on in years, and throwing away a few extra bucks a month from any pension plan after I retire probably isn’t the wisest choice I could make. Having two weeks paid vacation sounds good, even if I can only afford to take one week off at this time.

And, part of my lack of motivation is because I have been wishing for a partner to join me for some of my excursions. It worked out so well when Larri and I went together, as when one of us stopped to photograph something, the other one was there to act as “lookout” and catch anything else that may have come along.

If all this sounds like whining, I suppose it is in a way, but I feel the need to explain some things from time to time. I have some long draft posts started on a few of these things, and I am going to go ahead and delete them, as they are whining. I know that I have put my self in the situation I am in, and it’s up to me to get myself back out of it. I assure you, I will not be opening a Pay Pal account and begging for donations through this blog, and neither am I advertising for a partner.

Time to get something to eat, and then head out somewhere, I guess I will decide that on the way. 🙂

OK, I’m back, but for some reason, not I’m not in a much better mood. It was a good day for a long hike, I took some really good photos, and a lot of not so good photos. Usually a good long hike on a day like today always changes my mood.

I went to Aman Park, I haven’t been there for almost a year, I decided it was high time to visit it again. I used to see pileated woodpeckers there on a regular basis, and was hoping to get some good photos of them. Not only didn’t I see or hear any today, I didn’t see any fresh signs that they have been in the area. And other than birds, there aren’t many critters in the park during the day, too many people there. So it was today, the park wasn’t as crowded as I expected, and by sticking to the long outer loops, I was able to avoid most of the people who take the short inner loops, but I could hear kids screaming most of the day.

Things started out well enough, I was able to get these pictures of a red-breasted nuthatch.

Red-breasted nuthatch

I made full use of the capabilities of my Nikon to shoot many photos quickly to get these photos! These little buggers make chickadees seem like snails as far as how quickly they move!

Red-breasted nuthatch

I have several photos that show nothing more than a blue blur, and a couple with nothing more than empty branches as the bird moved out of the frame as I was taking a photo.

Red-breasted nuthatch

Then, there was this magnificent sycamore tree practically glowing in the bright sunshine.

Sycamore tree in the sun

Then there were these fern-like plants that I used to know the name of, sorry, but I have forgotten what they are, if you can identify them, I would appreciate it.

Ostrich ferns

They are a fairly common plant, I see them often, but something about the light and background prompted me to shoot that one, which looks a lot better full size by the way. Thanks Allen from the New Hampshire Garden Solutions for identifying these ferns for me.

I crossed one of the small feeder creeks to Sand Creek by going across where an earthen bridge had been all but washed away…

Foot trail all but washed away

…the last little bit of the trail that was left was  muddy and very slick, so when I finished that loop, I looked for another spot to cross the creek, and spied these ice formations on the creek.

Ice on a small creek

Ice on a small creek

While still looking for a place to cross the creek, I looked up to see a red-tailed hawk circling over me, almost as if it were taunting me, because of all the tree branches.

Red-tailed hawk through the tree branches

What the hawk obviously didn’t know is that I practice those kinds of shots everyday, so by timing its flight and shooting between the branches, I got these!

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

It isn’t everyday that I am able to outwit a hawk.

Sorry if this hasn’t been up to my usual standards, but half of the Kent County Sheriffs department has been outside my apartment for some time now, and it looks as if one of my neighbors is getting a free trip to jail.

The rest of my hike was much less eventful, there were a few birds, nothing close enough for a photo though. I was a bit bummed that I didn’t get more and better pictures, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. I’ll have to go back to Aman Park latter in the spring for what it is really known for, the large numbers of wildflowers.

As I was pulling onto the street for my apartment, I spotted ice formations sparkling in the late afternoon sunlight, like this.

Ice sparkling in the sun

I parked the explorer, grabbed the camera, and shot these.

Ice sparkling in the sun

Ice sparkling in the sun

Ice sparkling in the sun

Ice sparkling in the sun

Since I was out there, and had my camera in hand, I had to go over and see if the swans were there. I drove past the pond on my way out, the swans weren’t there then, the pond had iced over during the cold night that we had. They were back, but I couldn’t convince them, or the ducks, to swim over to the really great lighting of the evening sun, this was the best I could get.

Evening mute swan

I also shot this one, because the swan was using its neck and head to break the thin ice.

Evening mute swan

I now know why I was lacking in motivation this morning, some of what I explained in the beginning holds true, but it is also because I know my best chances of getting great wildlife photos is right here at home! It’s like living in a wildlife refuge, heck, it’s better than any wildlife refuge I’ve ever been to!

However, I do not live by wildlife alone, while there are tons of critters running around here, I would miss the trees, hills, dunes, open vistas, and other types of terrain that don’t exist here. So, when I am debating as to where to go on a weekend, I am trying to find places that will top what I have here, but there aren’t any as far as wildlife is concerned. That makes it a tough decision to make. Do I hike someplace for just wildlife, which means staying home, or hiking someplace else to satisfy my desires for nature other than wildlife?

I’ll figure it out, I always do. It may mean that some hikes won’t have many photos, or will just be mentioned in passing, but I can’t live only to post photos to my blog.

Anyway, since it is already Wednesday as I type this, I can tell you that there are some of the best photos that I have ever taken coming up in the next couple of daily posts, which is why this week is going to be done in daily installments. There are swans, geese, ducks, hawks, tweety birds, just to name a few species, with action shots along with the interactions of some of those species, and photos of a swan using a tool, at least that’s what it looked like to me.

So sorry for daily posts, but I don’t want to make one huge post that ends up even longer than last week’s.

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


The Weekly Photo Challenge: Down

I don’t have a lot of time to devote to this one, I am going to use a few photos left over from my hike in Aman Park on Sunday that fit. First off, going down the hill to get to Sand Creek.

The hill that leads to Sand Creek

Then these two fox squirrels looking down at me as I almost fell down while negotiating the slippery hill.

Fox squirrels looking down

Then, a red-breasted nuthatch hanging upside down.

Red-breasted nuthatch

Then, this house finch that looked as if it was going to fall down.

House finch

And finally, a fox squirrel imitating the nuthatch by hanging upside down.

Fox squirrel hanging upside down

That’s it for this one, sorry I didn’t have time for better pictures. Thanks for stopping by!


My Week…Cold blue (heron)

Sunday

The day started out cloudy and cold, but just as they predicted (for a change) the sun came out about mid-morning, and it looks beautiful out there! Nothing like sunshine on freshly fallen snow. I am late getting outside today, I have prepped the veggies and thrown them and the beef roast in the crock pot. You can’t do a blog without at least some cooking references I have found. Since I was busy in the kitchen, and it was darned cold in the apartment, I also whipped up a Johnny cake, along with making one of my scrambled omelette for breakfast.

The reason it was cold in the apartment this morning is the same as every morning, I turn the heat down to around 63 degrees at night, I sleep better in the cold. Maybe I am part bear. 😉

I am off to do a long hike in the local park near me, we’ll see what I come up with as far as photographs today.

Well, I’m home, what a great hike! Almost as good was walking in the door and smelling the roast cooking in the crock pot, it’s making me hungry!

I am making a cup of tea to drink while I check out the photos I took, but first, one other things. I can’t believe the number of hits my blog has gotten through the search engines about the new Michigan Rockport State Park. The state just announced that Friday, and already people are looking for information about it. I found the area because I was looking for access sites for kayaking on Lake Huron. I was rather surprised when I read that it had been turned into a state park. Over the last decade, news stories about our parks have usually been bad news, more parks closing, or other bad news.

The state implemented the new recreational passport last year, and that seems to be bringing in more money for the parks, plus, the new director of the DNR, Rodney Stokes, did a major reorganization of the department last year that seems to be paying dividends as well.

One thing I forgot to mention about the park is that there are no developed campsites, at least not of yet. That holds true of the entire area, including Thompson’s Harbor State Park which only has a couple of cabins for rent to campers.

Next, before I forget, there were many things I saw today that I didn’t get photos of, the one that comes to mind is the mallards “whitewater rafting” in Buck Creek. I actually laughed out loud watching them having a grand time shooting the rapids, then swimming back upstream in a slower part of the creek, only to shoot the rapids again. Then, there was the small hawk that whizzed by overhead so fast that I couldn’t even begin to identify it, let alone get a photo. Sometimes I forget about things like that if I didn’t get a photo. And speaking of photos, here we go.

Red bellied woodpecker

I took these right on the edge of the park, I thought it was cool the way it was hanging upside down. But, here it is right side up.

Red bellied woodpecker

Then came the real surprise of the day!

Great blue heron, snow, and ice

I had already titled this week’s post as “Cold blue”, honest, I did. I was referring to the bright blue sky this morning, but knowing that it was also one of the coldest mornings this winter. I had no idea I was going to see a great blue heron in Michigan during the month of February while the temperatures have been as low as they have been all winter.

Great blue heron, snow, and ice

I tried to circle around to get a better shot, but the pond the heron was in is surrounded by brush, and I spooked the heron off before I could get a good photo of it. I think that I found the same heron again for these shots.

Great blue heron, snow, and ice

I took that one with the lens set to 70 mm to capture the setting, here’s one taken zoomed in to 300 mm and cropped somewhat.

Great blue heron, snow, and ice

There may have been more than one heron, when I got to the very first pond along the trail, I saw a larger bird that flew like a heron. I didn’t think it was large enough to be a great blue, I thought it may have been a little green heron, but had convinced myself that it was impossible for any herons to be around here, wrong! So, now I have no idea what the first heron-like bird I saw was, it didn’t have the wingspan of a great blue, but it flew like a heron. Hmmm.

Here’s a couple other shots, no wildlife, just scenery pictures.

Grass and snow

Ice on a twig

More ice on another twig

After yet another flash freeze Friday, the woods were all sparkly again today. I thought that this next one was kind of cool, with the reflection of the blue sky on the creek.

Blue sky reflected off Buck Creek

Then, there was this little clown.

Fox squirrel that made a poor choice as to where to sit

That doesn’t look to me to be the best place to sit down for lunch, but then, I’m not a squirrel.

Fox squirrel enjoying lunch

Then it gave me “the look”.

Fox squirrel

As if it were telling me to go bother something else for a while.

Then, for the next series, I have to ask, does anything like this ever happen to you? You’ll see what I mean as I go along in the pictures.

I noticed a flock of tweety birds, and thought that I would take a few photos.

Tufted titmouse

They were all landing in a couple of the bushes near me, then they would fly to one tree, land on the side of the tree away from me, then fly back to the bushes. I even tried to get a good photo of the shadow of one of the birds as it landed away from me on the tree, but that didn’t work well, so I kept shooting when they landed in the bushes.

Tufted titmouse

White breasted nuthatch

Tufted titmouse in flight

After standing there for several minutes watching the birds come and go, it finally dawned on me that maybe I should walk around to the other side of the tree and find out why they were all going to that one spot. This is what I found.

White breasted nuthatch, bread stuffed in a hollow tree

Some one, and it wasn’t me, had stuffed some bread into a hollow tree, and the birds were taking turns grabbing a bite to eat.

White breasted nuthatch eating bread

In all my days in the outdoors, I had never seen that before. I knew people brought corn and other goodies out there for the critters, but I have never seen bread stuffed into a hollow tree like that before. Then you have to wonder, how do the birds find it, and not just one bird, but flocks of them?

I continued on my way, the only other photos I took are of whitetail deer.

Whitetail deer in hiding

Whitetail deer laying in the snow

Sorry about the brush, they were on the other side of the creek, and I couldn’t do any better than that from where I was.

Here’s one of a doe chewing her cud.

Whitetail doe chewing her cud

By then, the sun was getting low in the sky, the wind was getting even colder than it had been all day, and I had a stop to make on my way home, so I called it a day. A very good day!

Monday

Today is starting out sunny, we’re supposed to get snow this afternoon or evening. Things are getting interesting already as I am drinking my coffee, I saw a great blue heron flying between the apartment complex and the housing development that is across a short wooded area from me. That along with the more typical cackling of the turkeys is telling me that I have to get my butt in gear and get out there. One thing that I have forgotten to mention about the swan photos I have been posting, I actually had enough sense to set the ISO on my camera down to 200, its lowest setting. I have been keeping the camera set at ISO 400 for the action shots I try for, maybe there is still some hope for me as a photographer after all. So far at least, I haven’t been forgetting to switch back and forth depending on the subject.

I was going to start by saying that there wasn’t much going on around here, but that isn’t true, it seldom is. What I should say is that I didn’t take many photos today, and I doubt that any are good enough to post. That gives me time to say a few other things.

Walking the same place every day is good in one respect, you really learn the area and the wildlife that lives there. The downside is that, at least I, become complacent at times. I think that I have photographed everything worth photographing around here, other than the wildlife. I will have to work on that, which will become a lot easier when the flowers begin blooming, and the insects and migrating songbirds return.

Another thing is that I have been wearing the Red Wing hiking books around here, and they are killing my lower legs. They are some very well constructed boots, built to last, but I’m not sure my ankles can take them on a daily basis. I lost count of the number of times I have sprained my ankles, between playing basketball, riding dirt bikes, and all the walking I have done while hunting and hiking. My left ankle seems to be especially bothered by the Red Wings, between how much they weigh and the fact there is no cushioning in the soles. I am adding this not to whine, but as a tip for any one thinking of buying hiking boots, there’s a lot more to consider than how well they are built. I wore the New Balance yesterday, five miles and my ankles held up just fine. Two miles today in the Red Wings, and I have developed a limp from the pain. So if you are shopping for hiking boots, be very careful what you buy.

OK, here’s the short version of my hike. It was fairly nice out, the clouds held off until I was about done, but the wind was cold, a continuation from yesterday. About a third of the way through my walk, I pulled my hood on to protect my ears from the wind, even though I was wearing a knit hat that covers my ears. I hate wearing a hood, it blocks the sounds somewhat, and the birds were chirping away, getting ready for spring.

The swans weren’t at the pond where they have been, not surprising, all the ponds are frozen over. So, what was that heron doing here this morning? It was flying low, it may have been looking for food in one of the creeks before it took flight. The ducks are all back in the creeks, hanging out in the brush, if I post a photo from today, that will probably be what I post.

I watched a muskrat gathering more grass, and was going to try for a good photo, but as I was waiting for it to return, I got distracted by the mallards and other birds in the brush along the creek, I ended up with nothing. There were a few turkeys around, and of course the usual tweety birds, just a typical day around here, nothing really special in one way, but very special in the fact that this was a typical day. Lots of wildlife to keep me entertained, but no great photos.

The weather forecast for Tuesday is more snow, that should be interesting, and later this week, they are predicting yet another rain to snow event with a flash freeze. How many does that make for this winter? I have lost count.

That’s it for today, on to Tuesday.

Tuesday

Today was one of those “yucky” days, terrible for photography, but I love hiking in the kind of weather we’re having today! It is around freezing, a little snow, a little rain, a little drizzle, a little mist, a little fog, a little wind, and lots of low dark clouds.

Since I downloaded the pictures from yesterday and today together, I will start with a couple from yesterday.

Male mallard sleeping

That’s one of those really not all that great photos I post that I am actually quite proud of. Not the photograph as much as being able to get that close to a sleeping duck! I recently read that ducks and some other birds only sleep with half their brain at a time, with the other half still active and alert to be on guard for any danger. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I know sneaking up on sleeping birds of any species is one of the most difficult things to do as far as getting close to critters. That photo also show once again how the mallards have taken to resting back in the brush this winter.

Another shot from yesterday, the new species I have discovered!

The rare blue headed mallard

OK, so I’m kidding about it being a new species, it’s just a male mallard that due to a quirk in the lighting, his head looks more blue than green. The ice hanging from the brush adds a nice touch I think. Which brings me to the last from yesterday.

Ice on a fir

That does remind me of something else. I noted earlier that with the return of so many species, it was as if I was starting out all over again as far as learning about those species. There are two other components to that as well. One is my memory, it may not be as good as I think it is. At one time, I could identify every species of evergreen growing in Michigan. I knew the typical length of their needles, how many needles were in each bundle, all that stuff, as just one example. Now, I don’t have the foggiest idea how many needles are in each bundle of a white pine, or any other pine.

Part of the reason for that is that over the years, the exact identification of wildlife became less important to me than just being out there enjoying nature. Now that I am doing this blog and would like to get the exact identification correct, I am finding that I have to relearn it all.

And that brings me to another reason that I more or less gave up identifying things, scientists are renaming some species on me! I go to look something up, and I find a big long discussion as to whether it is a distinct species in its own right, or a sub-species, or a hybrid of some type. I understand the scientific reasons for wanting to get it correct, but the outdoorsman in me wants to say, “When you people figure it out, let me know, for right now, I’m calling it what I have always called it”.

I really have to change my mindset. This was brought home to me when I did the post on the new Rockport State Park and included a couple of photos Fringed Gentian flowers. I have been seeing them for years in the Pigeon River Country here in Michigan, I assumed they were a domesticated species of flower that had escaped into the wild again. Then it dawned on me that the places I was seeing them were some of the most wild parts of the PRC, so maybe I had better look them up. I did, learned what they were, correctly identified them in some posts from last year, then, promptly forgot what they were again. Memory, don’t fail me now!

One more thing before today’s hike, now that I have mentioned the new Rockport State Park, the last two days have been record setting as far as the numbers of hits my blog has gotten, mostly due to people searching for info on the park. I am amazed! I think that I will be back up there over the Memorial Day weekend, if I can find room. From all the people searching it, the park may be too crowded…. 😉

Anyway, today’s hike. If your memory isn’t as bad as mine is getting, you’ll remember that the weather wasn’t the greatest. First up, almost right outside my door, the female sharp shinned hawk.

Sharp shined hawk taking off

I know, not very good, but I hesitated even getting the camera out from inside my parka at first. I knew any photos were going to be crappy, and with the moisture of all kinds in the air, I wasn’t sure I wanted to expose the camera to it. But, I haven’t seen her for a couple of days, and wanted to record it.

Next up, no photo, but there was a male cardinal singing his fool head off, from the top of one of the tallest oak trees around here, and on the back side of it to boot, which is why no photo of it. The birds around here are really going into their springtime mode, lots of singing today, not just that one cardinal. I was watching it, and a large flock of tweety birds, when I noticed that the robins have returned.

Robins

They have been gone for a few weeks, and I have speculated that they had gone north when the snow melted around here. Now, we’ve had snow on the ground again for a week or more, and the robins have returned.

Robins

I have a theory, that it isn’t food, snow cover, or even temperature directly that influence the migration of some birds, it is the availability of open water, and that the birds only go as far south as it takes to find open water. Here’s why. I see the migrating birds like robins, bluebirds and others, hanging out in flocks along the creeks that are still flowing. There’s food there for them there, but I also see them drinking from the creeks quite often. During our last cold snap, when the creeks even came close to freezing completely over, I watched a flock of robins take turns drinking from a very small opening left in the ice. I think that we tend to forget about how important drinking water is to birds, and focus on food and temperatures as to why they move in the patterns they do. Something else for me to study more closely.

Then there was this guy.

Northern cardinal singing in February

I told you about the other cardinal singing already, not long after that, this one took up song. He was in a smaller tree, so I was able to get a bad photo of him for the “record”.

Let’s see, I stopped at one of the creeks and watched the ducks for a while. Since the ponds are all frozen over, the ducks are crowded into the creeks, and being jammed in together, there was much splashing, chasing, and butt biting going on. No great brawls like in an earlier post, just a few scuffles from time to time.

The only other noteworthy thing was a tom turkey thinking that since it is Valentine’s Day today, that the hen turkey he was courting should have been in a “romantic” mood as well, but she was having none of it. He was doing his displaying and circle dance around her, she was ignoring him, stuffing herself with acorns. No other comments from me on that one!

That’s it for today, tomorrow is supposed to be great! High near 40 degrees, and the sunshine is forecast to return for a day.

Wednesday

Well, the sunny day that was predicted yesterday has given way to a lighter continuation of yesterday’s gloomy day. There doesn’t seem to be as much precipitation coming down, and the clouds are a bit lighter, but still, a dreary day. We’ll see what I can come up with as far as photos.

I think the science of meteorology has gone downhill since they all began relying on computer models to do the forecasting for them. Twenty four hours ago the forecast was for a warm sunny day, now that it didn’t turn out that way, they are predicting a cool, cloudy day. There are times, not just when it comes to the weather, that I think we are letting bad computer models run our lives. But, I don’t intend this to be a science fiction blog, so I had better get out there and see what’s going on today!

That was interesting, almost as soon as I began my walk, the clouds began to break up. I spent a lot of time talking to the groundskeepers here, they were out shovelling the snow from the parking lots because so many people have been complaining. But, that’s the subject of another blog that I won’t do.

It seemed really dead around here, despite the pleasant temperature, that is an odd thing around here. I took one bad photo of the pond that the swans were hanging around in last week, trying to capture the strange color of the ice due to the clouds and the ice melting, but it didn’t turn out the way I want. The swans weren’t there, the pond is still frozen over right now.

I did watch the mallards in the creek for a while, I’ve posted enough photos of them recently, so I didn’t even try for a photo.

I was 3/4 of the way done with my walk, and not too much to write about, when the sun broke through the clouds for good, and it was if it instantly when from dreary to bright! I caught this photo of a fox squirrel that was taking advantage of the sun to soak up some rays.

Fox squirrel sunning

It was like some one had flipped a switch, the birds started singing and flitting about as soon as the sun came out.

Robin

I stood at one corner of a wooded area right outside my apartment, that’s how close I was to finishing my walk, and took photo…

White breasted nuthatch

…after photo…

Black capped chickadee

…after photo..

Downy woodpecker

…after photo, including this one, which is I think, the best picture of a chickadee that I have ever taken.

Black capped chickadee

The only reason I didn’t get even more photos was that the birds were going at hyper-speed! They weren’t sitting still long enough for me to get them in the frame and focused on them before they were gone again. I did get a few very bad action shots, like the back half of a downy woodpecker in flight, but I’m not going to bore you with them today. I also tried for a shot of the male cardinal that was perched and singing in the top of one of the trees I was standing under, but he was too high up, and there were too many branches in the way. It sure felt great, warm sunshine, birds singing and going crazy, a sign of things to come.

I really wanted to do another lap around here now that the place had come alive, but time didn’t permit that. In fact, I would like to expound further on how I think that it is the availability of open water that determines a good share of the migration habits of some birds, but time doesn’t allow me to do that right now either.

That, and I received an update from the Little Traverse conservancy of which I am a member. 2011 was one of their best years ever as far as both fund-raising, and the amount of land they have helped to preserve. It is their 40th anniversary this year, and in those 40 years, they have protected over 14,000 acres of land in northern Michigan!

Of course I would love it if every one who reads this would join as well, but I know that isn’t going to happen. However, I would urge every one to find a local land conservancy in their area and join. With the loss of habitat one of biggest challenges facing most species of wildlife, protecting habitat by preserving it from development is one of the best ways to ensure that those species survive.

One more thing, Rebecca in the woods just did a post above wolves in northern Wisconsin that you may want to read. You can find a link to her blog on the right side of this page, along with a link to the Little Traverse Conservancy, if you’re interested. Anyway, the reason I mentioned her post is that wolves have been removed from the endangered species list here in Michigan as well as in Wisconsin and Minnesota. I am not happy about that at all, and I need to do a post on that subject when I get the time.

Sorry about how short this day’s entry is, time to head for work today, on to Thursday.

Thursday

The rain overnight melted most of the snow that was on the ground, and all that moisture is now hanging in the air as a very heavy fog. I am hoping the fog will either burn off or be blown out before I go for my hike, in the meantime, I whipped up a loaf of banana nut bread for later.

It will be interesting to see if the robins are still around now that we are back in a warming trend, along with the herons and swans. Since they all showed up towards the end of a two week cool spell, I am thinking they came from the north rather than from the south.

I’m back, no robins, no herons, but the swans are back. Two days of warm weather, a warming trend predicted to continue, and a little open water in one of the ponds was all it took. The herons and robins could still be in the area, and it could be that I just didn’t see them today. Time will tell.

Before I get to the photos, there are birds around here that I seldom, if ever mention. I have posted a few photos of herring gulls, taken both here and along the lakeshore, just as practice shots on moving targets. The gulls are around here daily, always flying east to west. I don’t know if they roost east of here, or what, but I see them all the time. I can’t tell you the number of times I have caught the motion from one of them out of the corner of my eye and pulled up with the camera in hopes it was a hawk or other species. It isn’t that I dislike gulls, it just that they are always around.

Two other species always around are the English house sparrow and English starlings. I know from other people’s post that some of you like them, so I won’t offer my opinion of them. I’ll just say that you will never see a photograph of either of those two species here, unless it is something truly spectacular, like one of them in the claws of a hawk, or something on that order.

Now then, on to the swan photos.

Mute swans and ice

You can see in that picture how they had landed on the ice, then broken a path through the ice to reach the little bit of open water around the edge of the pond.

I was still zoomed out to get that photo, when two mallards took off.

Mallards taking flight

I zoomed in on the male…

Male mallard in flight

..and got two surprisingly good photos considering how dark it was today.

Male mallard in flight

And as I type this, the sun is trying to break through the clouds, bad timing.

Oh well, this looks cold to me.

Mute swans and ice

I wouldn’t want to be dunking my head into a bucket of ice water today.

Mute swans and ice

If you’re a large, hungry mute swan and you think a flock of mallards have discovered something good to eat, what do you do?

Mute swan herding ducks

You herd them out of your way….

Mute swans and ice

and go for the goodies yourself.

Mute swans and ice

Mute swans and ice

Almost a heart, not quite, darn.

The rest of my walk was rather uneventful, I was deep in thought about a number of things. One was the migration of the birds. If I had been really smart, and had I known we were going to have a mild winter, I should have made a spreadsheet to track the weather, the ice coverage on the ponds and creeks, and what species were here when. I suppose I could go back through the weather records and my photos and do a close approximation, but that would be quite time-consuming, and I don’t have the time right now.

The other thing on my mind was work and the Teamsters union. I doubt if I will be getting the promotion I wrote about before, the idiots that manage the company I work for think that I am harder to replace than the person that retired, so I will be stuck in this job forever. Then there’s the money sucking leeches in the Teamsters, how I wish Michigan was a right to work state!

I don’t want to turn this into a political blog, but I hate unions, always have, always will. On a regular basis, the Teamsters send me mailings warning me that large, evil corporations are out to ruin my standard of living to the point where I can no longer afford to purchase the products and services that those evil corporations depend my making in order to turn the obscene profits they do.

Also on a regular basis, I get mailings from the Teamsters telling me that they have partnered with those evil corporations to try to sell me overpriced products and services and that I should really take advantage of those offers because the Teamsters get a kickback, those evil corporations have agreed to make a donation to the Teamsters for every unit sold.

Maybe unions were something needed 100 years ago, but as I see it, the union leadership are nothing more than a bunch of fatcats living the good life by sucking money out of my paycheck. When Jimmy Hoffa Jr. agrees to take the average rank and file Teamster member’s salary as his own, that would be one thing. But, when his salary is about equal to the salaries of the CEOs he’s always bashing, it’s hard to take him for anything more than the crook that he is.

Enough of that, on to Friday.

Friday

The big news today, Cabelas is coming to this area! I have already written that Cabelas is one of my favorite sources for outdoor gear, now I will no longer have to pay for shipping, if I can’t find what I want in the store. The store they are building here is a downsized version of their more typical stores, so I will probably still have to order much of the clothing I buy.

The other big news, sunshine! So, I am off for my hike!

What a fantastic mid-winter day! No camera in the parka, in fact, I carried the camera most of the day, it was wonderful out there. I wish I had a ton of photos to share from today, but for the most part, all I got were more of the same old same old. There are so many reasons why, as you will find out about as I go.

The weather was great, but the snow removal service that has been doing such a rotten job around here sent their skid-steer operator over here to finally finish removing the snow from the parking lots. For better than the first third of my walk, it was as if he were following me around. I could hear many birds over the noise of the loader, but because of the noise, I had a hard time pinpointing where the birds were. That, and about the time I found a bird to shoot, the loader operator would drop the bucket and frighten everything away.

I got to the pond where the swans had been yesterday, no swans today, but I did shoot this one.

Half frozen pond

And for one of my bad action shots of the day, I took this one of a fox squirrel making a leap.

Fox squirrel feet

I got to one of the other ponds, where the swans had spent most of their time when they first arrived here, but they weren’t there. I could see from the paths in the thin ice that they had been there since yesterday’s hike, so they may be back.

At one of the creeks I could hear lots of birds, including some bluebirds, but I couldn’t spot anything close to me other than the mallards.

Male mallard

Male mallard

I included those last two for a reason. After taking nearly 9,000 photos with my Nikon D 50, it seems to be finally working the way that it should, most of the time. It still has its glitches, but for the most part, it is working better than ever. Part of that is that I have finally learned its glitches, and pay special attention to certain things it does, but I have never been happier with it than I have the last month and a half or so. I am still using the spot metering mode, I’m afraid to change any settings for fear it will revert back to doing whatever it feels like.

As I said, there were birds singing everywhere, especially the male cardinals. I tried getting some shots of them, this is the best I could do, and it isn’t very good.

Male northern cardinal

Just like yesterday, they were in the tops of tall trees and hidden by branches most of the time.

And another photo to jog my memory.

American robin dancing

As you can see, the robins are back here again, that’s not the only reason for the photo though. I forgot that yesterday I saw a small flock of cedar waxwings for the first time this spring. I was getting set to take a bad photo of them when some one else spooked them off, and I had sort of forgotten about them. I shouldn’t have.

The cedar waxwings were feeding on mountain ash berries in trees that none of the other species of birds around here seem to touch. I almost shot a picture of those trees today to show how many berries are left on those trees, especially in comparison to the trees the robins were feeding in and under today. I do notice one thing now seeing the picture of the robin, the berries on those trees are more red than the berries on the other mountain ash trees, which are more orange in color. Hmmm.

I thought that part of the reason could be due to available cover nearby, the trees with the more orange berries aren’t near any of the evergreens around here, but when I looked at the trees with the reddish berries the robins were feeding on today, there are no evergreens around them either. Hmmm again.

The mountain ash trees that all the birds seem to go for are the ones near evergreen trees. Now that one is explainable.

Then I wonder if any one else even cares, or if I am obsessed with berries? 😉

No, because as I was trying to get a good shot of the robins feeding on the berries, I noticed a red-tailed hawk circling close and fairly low. I was trying to get a good photo of it, but I was under the stupid mountain ash trees and their berries, which kept blocking my view of the hawk. I ran out from under the trees, and got these not so great shots of the hawk.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Those were taken on the hawk’s second pass overhead, which of course wasn’t as close or as low as its first pass had been, darn!

Then, I looked back at where the robins had been, I thought for sure I would have spooked them while chasing the hawk, but they were still there. In fact, I was nearly directly under one of the robins. I carefully circled back around to get better lighting, and the stupid robins all flew off long before I got anywhere nearly as close as I had been just a short while before, go figure. I guess they were full.

Back to the berries and the trees that bear them. As I noted when I first started obsessing over the berries, there are mountain ash trees planted in several groups around the apartment complex here. Some of the groups are near evergreens, some are out in the open. As I discovered today, some of the trees have berries that are more orange, some have berries that are more red. Now, I am going to have to stop at each grouping and figure out if they have red berries or orange, because some of the trees are nearly stripped of berries, and some have hardly been touched.

I never really noted the difference before, but I remember that the trees I saw the cedar waxwings in yesterday was one of the same trees that I photographed the cedar waxwings in last spring when they arrived. As a matter of fact, that’s what I was thinking to myself when I first saw the waxwings, “That’s the same tree they were in last spring”. So their preference for those particular trees isn’t something from just this spring. Maybe I will have to do some taste testing to see why some species prefer the red berries, and other species prefer the orange berries. Or maybe I should quit obsessing with the berries and just shoot bird photos.

Cedar waxwing from last spring

That’s it for the berries for today, tomorrow is supposed to be a bit cooler with some snow, maybe, we’ll see. On to Saturday.

Saturday

Has every one heard more than they ever wanted to about mountain ash berries? If so, raise your hands please.

We had a pathetic little snowstorm roll through here late yesterday afternoon, when it began it had all the look of being the real deal. Once again, it looked like the first snowfall of the season, rather than a February storm. That didn’t last long though, and this morning, almost all the new snow has melted already.

The long-range forecast for March is in, and they are calling for the mild winter to continue. That has me worried, as the long-range forecasts are seldom correct.

As for today, partly sunny, with a stiff breeze out of the west and temperatures mild for this time of year. I am thinking about doing two laps here today, one for photos, one for more exercise. Of course I will still have my camera with me on the second lap, we’ll see what I come up with.

There was a change of plans during my walk which you’ll find out about when I get there, the other story was that the clouds rolled in and began spitting snow almost the minute I walked out the door. Also almost right outside my door was this turkey.

Turkey lying down

It’s not everyday that I can get that close to a wild turkey that’s lying down, so I had to take that one. That turkey and the one that was with it took off running of course, and I snapped this one as they did.

Turkey stretching its wings

Since there was little light with the clouds blotting out the sun, it came out blurry, but I kind of like it, makes me think I should try for a similar, but better shot.

I got to the pond where the swans have been hanging out, and they were there again today. I stood there for quite some time, knowing that I had all day for a change, no work to interrupt my pleasure! I took over 100 photos today, mostly of the swans.

Mute swan preening

I’m not going to bore you with all of them, just a couple. But first, as I was standing there, other waterfowl, ducks and gees, either flew over the pond, or landed in it to join the swans. I took many photos of those birds as well, but very few of them came out well due to the lack of light. Here’s the best of a bad lot.

Male mallard preparing for touchdown

The geese I saw didn’t land, they had their wings set, their feet down, it looked like they were coming in for a landing, but I don’t know if the sight of me or the swans made them change their minds, but they did. The photos I got of them were really bad, no reason to post them here.

Here’s another shot of the swans.

Mute swan stretching its wings

It was quit chilly standing in one spot with the cold wind blowing the way that it was, besides, how many swan photos could I take in one day? So, off I went. I wasn’t seeing much, I don’t know if it was because of the time of day, or the wind. One thing I did see was hundreds of herring gulls, as is usual around here this time of year.

The other thing I noticed is that a small flock of robins was in the process of trying to eat as many of the mountain ash berries as they could, from one of the trees that up until today, I had never seen a bird in this winter. No photos, for some reason, I didn’t even make an attempt. I think it was because my hand was frozen from taking the swan photos, the light was crummy, and the robins themselves didn’t look very photogenic today. I just made a mental note that the robins were there, and continued on my way.

As I got towards the front of the complex, a thought occurred to me, I should walk down to the chain of lakes to the west. I seldom go there, I have to walk along the road, which is not my favorite thing to do, especially with the amount of traffic there is. I knew that if I took a second lap here, I would end up with another 100 swan photos. Besides, I was wondering what I would find there. I haven’t been there since early this winter, when the weather was so bad some nice young kid offered me a ride because of the weather.

Another reason I don’t go to the chain of lakes very often is that they are surrounded by houses and condos, and to make it even worse, I have to shoot into the sun for most of the day, making any photos I attempt, not worth taking.

I got to the lakes and found out why I always see the gulls flying west, it’s to get to the lakes. There were thousands of gulls there, along with several hundred each of both mallards and Canadian geese. I did shoot this one of a small part of a small flock of gulls.

Herring gulls

I was hoping to find a heron or two, no luck on that. The chain of lakes is really good for seeing large numbers of waterfowl, but as I said, terrible as far as getting good photos of any of them.

On the way back here, the sun broke through the clouds again, it felt 30 degrees warmer than on the walk over to the lakes. I headed back to the pond where the swans were, hoping for some better photos in the sunlight, they were sleeping when I got there, however, as soon as I stuck my head around the tree I was using to get close to them, their heads came up, and they went back to preening again. I took these two pictures with my Canon, I haven’t been using it very much of late.

Mute swans preening

Mute swan

For a relatively inexpensive camera, the Canon does a really good job!

I also used it on these two.

Ice and snow on an evergreen

Ice and snow on an evergreen

I was really hoping for better pictures today, that happens I guess. All in all, not a bad day, and all in all, not a bad week. Kind of an average week for around here, which is why I love living here!

One more thing before I publish this week’s post, I have added a link to Jack Elliott’s Santa Barbara Adventure blog, it is about a little bit of everything, from hiking to history to surfing, with some great photos to help tell the story. If you haven’t checked it out already, I would suggest you do so.

That’s about it for this week, I’m not sure yet what I am going to be up to tomorrow. It looks like we could have a spectacular sunset here this evening, I should find a good spot and wait to see if I could capture any good photos, but I think I’ll eat supper and watch it through the window. This week is ending much as it began, with bright blue skies, but on the chilly side. No snow left from the beginning of the week, that’s OK, no snow makes for easier hiking and longer hikes!

Thanks for stopping by!


The Weekly Photo Challenge: Regret

No nature photos this week, I’m not sure that the concept of regret exists in nature, but this will nature related.

My parents

I don’t have many regrets in my life, the one that comes to mind is not getting to know my parents better. This is especially true as far as my mom, and how she came to be so knowledgeable about the outdoors, nature, and in particular, plants.

My parents were very private people, you simply didn’t ask them questions about themselves. I understand a lot more about my dad’s knowledge of the outdoors, since he was a hunter and fisherman who brought me along with him even at an early age.

My mom was way ahead of her times in a way, a college degree, and she worked as a book-keeper until we kids started coming along.  But the not so typical things about her were that she was an excellent archer, better than my dad, and she knew the names of so many wild plants, and wildlife in general.

I assume she learned from some of it from her parents, my grandparents, and growing up on a farm lends itself to that type of knowledge I suppose. My grandfather was also a member of the National Geographic Society, and I read many of the back issues of their magazine that he had saved, and I’m sure my mom did as well when she was growing up.

Still, I regret not learning how both of my parents became so well-educated about nature.

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


Rockport State Park, Michigan’s newest!

Michigan State recreation officials announced that the “Rockport Property,” previously managed as part of the state forest system, was transferred to the Parks and Recreation Division to become the newest state park in Michigan.

There isn’t much information available about the park yet, for that matter, there isn’t much there yet except for an abundance of natural beauty, and the remains of past uses of the land by man. Here’s what the DNR website has to say about our newest park.

“Rockport State Park offers many unique and special features. With 4,237 acres of land located on the shores of Lake Huron, north of Alpena, the property includes a deep-water protected harbor, an old limestone quarry of approximately 300 acres, a unique series of sinkholes, a dedicated Natural Area (Besser Natural Area), and a broad range of land types, vegetative cover, cultural resources and recreation opportunities. At the harbor, the Department has a boat launch facility, and there is a small park developed by Alpena Township on land leased from the State.”

Located between Thompson’s Harbor and Negwegon State Parks this new park will be a perfect fit. This is an incredibly beautiful area, and as luck would have it, I visited it late last summer and of course, took a few photos which I am about to share.

The old deep water dock at Rockport State Park in Michigan

Lake Huron shoreline at Rockport State Park in Michigan

Middle Island, part of which is part of Rockport State Park in Michigan

A Lake Huron marsh at Rockport State Park in Michigan

A wildflower at Rockport State Park in Michigan

A dragonfly

Daisies and butterfly

Fringed gentian

Fringed gentian

Wildflowers

Unidentified hawk

Wildflowers

There’s an existing boat ramp for kayakers and fishermen there, and a very nice small park that has been leased to Alpena Township. I am hoping the DNR will map out some hiking trails soon, but the area is open to hiking now for those who don’t need a developed trail system. If you go, and I would recommend it to any one, please tread lightly, the marshes and many of the wildflowers are very fragile. I can’t wait to go back, I was there at the “wrong” time of the year, spring and early summer is the best for viewing the wildflowers.

The area is also rich in history, there are a number of shipwrecks in the waters of Lake Huron not far from the boat ramp, including one in the Besser Natural Area.

To get there, take US 23 north from Alpena to Rockport road, turn right to go east, and follow it to the end.