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.


My week….Starting out in a fog

Sunday
I hiked Muskegon State Park, there’s not much to say about it other than I had a great hike. I didn’t take many photos, and none worth sharing here. I did see one eagle perched in its favorite spot in a dead tree right on the Muskegon Lake shore, and another soaring over the east end of the lake, and of course the usual ducks, geese and swans. But, a cloud bank rolled in about the time I started my hike, and it stayed cloudy there in Muskegon the rest of the day. Early on in my hike, I knew it wasn’t going to be a photo kind of day, so I just enjoyed being out there by myself and hiked some of the toughest trails in the system there. It was something I needed to do, including the not photographing anything.

Monday

The day has started off with an early morning fog, the fog has lifted, but the clouds remain. I am getting set to go for my walk, if there’s anything interesting, I’ll be back. 😉

The clouds still haven’t cleared, with my luck, they won’t until I head to work, that’s OK. The fog in the air may have cleared, but I’m still in kind of a fog myself right now. Nothing major, just enjoyed two days of hiking without worrying too much about any photos, not that I didn’t take any. Mostly, I observed what was going on with the turkeys, tweety birds, squirrels, and even listened to some Canadian geese going crazy, never did figure out why, they were too far away for me to track down.

I don’t know if my belt has stretched, or if I am finally beginning to lose some weight. I am going two notches shorter on my belt in the last two weeks. That’s one of the reasons I took the tough trails at Muskegon, I know when my metabolism finally kicks up a notch, I can shed pounds like a duck sheds water. I just can’t believe how hard it has been to kick up my metabolism this time.

Anyway, I was moving a lot faster than normal today, but I was wonderfully surprised when I got to one of the ponds.

Mute swans

The mute swans I have seen flying around here from time to time were swimming around in one of the ponds. I would prefer that they were trumpeters, but it would be so cool to watch any swans raise a family here!

Mute swan

Of course I got closer, but not close enough for them to start giving me the Bronx cheer. Other people describe their call differently, but it sounds like “aaaththththt” to me. You can find out more about them and listen to their call here at all about birds.

Mute swan

You can tell two things from this last photo, one, it was dark and dreary here, even though the forecast was for bright sunshine. Two, these two haven’t decided to nest here, or those mallards would have been toast!

Mute swans are one of the most aggressive birds there are, heck, they’re one of the most aggressive anything when it comes to defending their territory. The mute swans are considered an invasive species, they were imported to the US from Europe, after we had almost wiped out the native trumpeters.

Mute swan

I did manage this one of a mallard in flight, one of my practice shots on moving targets.

Male mallard in flight

I also shot a couple of one of the sharp shinned hawks, I knew they were bad when I shot them, they have properly deleted and given a good burial.

I also watched a little bit of another turkey fight, but no photos, sorry, they were back in the brush. I do know one thing, I wouldn’t want to get smacked by their wings! The two going at it were landing some pretty heavy blows by the sounds of it. That’s all for today.

Tuesday

Another cloudy, cool day. The wind wasn’t as cold as yesterday, but it still felt nippy out there. The cooling trend is supposed to continue all week long, until it begins to warm up again next week. I am so spoiled this winter, a few cloudy days in a row, and I’m complaining about it. The last few days have been above average as far as both temperature and sun, but compared to earlier this winter, they have seemed cold and dreary.

That reminds me, I missed the anniversary of the Groundhog’s Day blizzard from last year. Last year we were digging out from under 16 inches of snow at this time, this year, there is no snow. I could go on at length about how the media has turned weather averages into supposed weather normals, but I’ll save that for another post, along with a couple of land use news items I read recently.

The story for today, timing, luck, and not paying attention.  When you photograph on the move the way I do, timing and luck are everything. I started out, and right off the bat, I heard a goose honking while in flight. I was too far away for a photo, but I watched and listened anyway, and kept right on walking. Right up on a pair of mallards that would have offered a great shot of them taking off, if I hadn’t been watching the goose.

Still early in my walk, I heard more geese approaching, and I wasn’t sure I was even going to try for a shot as cloudy as it was, until I could hear their wings. I knew they were close, but they came right over the building I was next to, no way to pull up and shoot that quickly, especially as low as they were. I did shoot this one for practice.

Canadian geese in flight

I know that it’s horrible, but it also gives you an idea how low they were. Here’s another bad shot to go with it, a chickadee.

Black capped chickadee

I tried to get a better shot of it and its buddies, but had no luck there.

I made it to the pond all the way in the back corner of the apartment complex, where I saw the swans yesterday. One was still there, and as I was sneaking up on it, this little bugger decided to pose for me.

Fox squirrel

It asked for a profile shot, so I obliged.

Fox squirrel

And here’s a couple of the swan.

Mute swan

I tried for a good reflection shot, but the wind kept the ripples on the water too active for that, so I went for a close-up instead.

Mute swan

Mute swan

Then, I saw something white stuck to a branch in one of the creeks, it turned out to be this..

Duck feather in the stream

..and spooked a pair of muskrats that were there by the stream. When will I learn? I had given the area a quick glance, then focused on the feather trying to figure out what it was. From where I was when I saw it, I didn’t know it was a feather, but instead of paying attention to my surroundings, I stared at it until the splashes from the startled muskrats woke me up. Oh well, there will be lots of chances for muskrat shots.

That wasn’t the only mallard feather in the creek either, in fact, there were a lot of feathers. I worked my way upstream following the trail of feathers to see if they were from a hawk having attacked one of the mallards, or from the mallards preening. I can’t say for sure, but from where the trail ended, and the fact that all the feathers were in the water, I’m thinking they were from the mallards preening. I do know that the mallards around here are a lot more cautious than what they used to be. The only time I see them out in the open is in the ponds, when they are in the creeks, they tend to stay back under the overhanging branches where they are safe. Now that I think of it, that has happened over the course of the winter. Earlier, the ducks were behaving as they always had in the past, but as the winter has progressed, they have been spending more and ore time in cover.

I have seen the sharpies here since I moved in, but I see them almost daily this winter. Before, it was once every couple of weeks. I wonder if those two things are related?

That’s it for today, on to Wednesday.

Wednesday

The sun has returned! It was still chilly though, the sun hadn’t been out long enough to really warm things up, which in a way, was a good thing. It did warm up during the time I was out there, and the difference in the behavior of the critters was noticeable.

My first shot of the day, taken just to shoot something, a fox squirrel sticking a landing.

Fox squirrel in motion

They may be common critters around here, but it is still fun to watch them in action, especially the way they use their tails for balance.

I paused at the first creek, there were a few ducks quite a way downstream, I didn’t bother with them, but I did shoot this.

Sumac drupe

The birds and weather have taken their toll.

I was watching the pair of red-tailed hawks soaring high above the fields to the east, way too far away for any kind of a photo. As I was watching them, I thought about just how good their eyesight has to be. I thought I was doing well to spot them, but then it hit me, they are looking for mice and other small rodents, and that reminded me that I have wanted to do a post on protecting your eyesight.

I know that I have been blessed with eyesight far better than average, and due to an injury my dad suffered, I know how fragile eyesight is. I have seen recommendations that hard-core outdoors people should buy cheap sunglasses, knowing that you are probably going to lose them. As with many things, I take the opposite tack, I say buy sunglasses so expensive that you can’t afford to lose them.

I am on my second pair of Ray-ban aviators. Yes, I did lose the first pair after many years, but they were old, beat up, and the lenses were getting scratched to the point I was considering replacing them anyway. Back when I was shooting rifles, the Ray-bans were about the only glasses any shooter wore, because of how good the optical quality was. That’s why I still wear them to this day.

I could go on at length about them, but the important thing is that sunglasses should be worn anytime you are out in the sun, to prevent cataracts. Both my mother and my brother in law had cataract surgery, and while it did improve their eyesight, it is never as good as before the cataracts. In addition, a good pair of sunglasses will protect your eyes from twigs and branches as you are walking in the woods. I will not fly fish if I don’t have protective glasses on, the thought of casting a sharp fishing hook back and forth near my face is enough to convince me of that. So protect your peepers, you only have two, and losing sight in one is bad enough, you could ask my dad about that if he were still alive.

Anyway, I got to the pond where the swan(s) had been the last two days, they weren’t there. That really wasn’t too surprising, as the pond just about froze over again last night.

I almost forgot, as I was approaching the pond, I saw a turkey right in front of one of the apartment buildings, and I though that there was no way I would miss getting a great photo of it. The turkey looked as if it was going to go into the building, and didn’t seem to be in a hurry, so I thought that the turkey could wait, I would check the pond first. On my way there, I stopped to shoot a few pictures of house finches.

House finch

Even better than seeing them was hearing them, a couple of the males were in full spring song.

House finch

Of course the ones closest to me weren’t the ones singing.

I did check out the pond, no swans, a small flock of mallards though. I did shoot a few photos, nothing worth posting here though. Then, I went after the turkey, but it was gone. I looked all over for it, I swear it went into one of the apartments, that’s the way it goes sometimes.

Later on though, I did shoot this bad photo of a turkey just to show you how well they can hide.

Hidden turkey

All I saw was a dark lump where there shouldn’t have been a dark lump, so I walked closer until I could make it out as a turkey. There’s actually two in that photo, good luck if you try to find it. 🙂

Then it was on to the main creek here, and some good mallard photos, maybe the best one I have ever taken.

Male mallard

I like the way I was able to get the subtle barring of its feathers, but I think I can still do better. In the meantime, here are a couple almost as good.

Male mallards

Male mallard

As I continued on, I noticed a distinct downturn in the critter activity. I think that with the sun out, and it getting warmer, all of them were taking a siesta. That would fit with the way the ducks and turkeys were behaving.

A few more notes about today before the last photos. It has been dry here for a couple of weeks now, and the creek levels are dropping. As they drop, I see cardinals out on the flats of the creeks that had been under water, but are now dry. I have been trying for a photo, but the cardinals are extra spooky out in the open like that. It isn’t just cardinals, there are other species as well, but the cardinals are the most noticeable, and I am wondering what they are finding to feed on there. I thought I was going to succeed as far as a photo yesterday, I had the camera pointed at a cardinal out on the flats, but when the auto-focus finally locked on, the bird was gone.

And, that reminds me once again to check my Nikon out as far as the auto-focus settings. I thought that I had it set so that the auto-focus would function continuously, but in playing with it today, sometimes it does that, other times it locks and will not continue to focus as I move the camera. I made note of that before, once the battery is recharged, I have to check it this time.

Last note of the day, the weather forecasters have no idea what’s coming. Some of the computer models say warmer, others say colder. Time for a dart board. 😉 It doesn’t really matter, I will be doing the same thing whether it is warmer or cooler, but it would be nice to have an idea so that I could make plans for the weekend as far as where I was doing it.

OK, last photos of the day, a pair of mourning doves.

Mourning doves

Mourning doves are among the earliest birds to nest in these parts, I’ll be willing to bet that these two have already built a nest, or are about to. It isn’t unusual to see young mourning doves in March.

Mourning doves

Hmmm, no flying birds today, not even ones that end up being deleted. That’s odd for me. Well, better luck tomorrow!

Thursday

I was going to start out with no clouds, no swans, but neither was the case. It got relatively cold last night, and I thought that the ponds were probably frozen completely over, but they weren’t. And, although it was cloudless most of the time, one or two did managed to form overhead.

I used a couple of the first photos I took today for the post “The Weekly Photo Challenge: Ready“, those of the greenery starting to show up in the woods, and of the fox squirrel and nut.

It was still cold when I started out, and that wasn’t helped by the stiff wind out of the west. Other than pausing for the photos I mentioned above, I was moving right along. I had another brainstorm as I was walking, a couple of  posts ago, I complained how heavy and unsuited for slick conditions the Red Wing hiking boots I have are. I was wearing my New Balance boots today, as I normally do, when it ht me. I am wearing them out on short hikes in nice weather, that’s when I should be wearing the Red Wings! So, beginning tomorrow, I will wear the heavy Red Wings around here on my short daily hikes, and save the New Balance boots for when I really need them.

Then, I came to the pond that I thought was going to be frozen over, but instead, there was enough open water that both the mute swans were back. There are several photos of them in my last post, with the link just above, but here’s a couple more.

Mute swans

Mute swans

There are two colors that are particularly hard to get the exposure correct on when photographing something, white and black. I am quite happy with the way the swan pictures turned out, so my next challenge was something black, a crow.

American crow

That’s not too bad, I think to do any better, I am going to have to get closer to one. That will be a challenge!

Next stop was one of the trees that has berries left on it, I forgot to identify the tree. I noticed this female cardinal first.

Cardinals

Then the male on the backside of the tree, somewhat hidden. Here’s the female close-up.

Female northern cardinal

I tried to get closer, but she flew off, and as I was standing there, several goldfinches arrived for lunch.

American goldfinch

I had trouble getting a clear shot of any of them, that was the best I could do.

I noted earlier that the mallards around here are hiding out more than they ever have before, I think it is because of the two sharp shinned hawks hunting the area this winter. Here are two photos to show you what I mean.

Mallards hiding in the brush along a creek

Female mallard hiding in the brush along a creek

Whatever the reason, the ducks are staying well back in the brush most of the time now.

And here are a couple of just because photos, just because I like them.

Just because

Bubbles trapped in ice

The rest of my walk was non-eventful, except that I saw a large bird soaring off in the distance. At first I thought that it was a red tailed hawk, but the more I watched it, the less it looked like a hawk. It was a turkey vulture!

Turkey vulture in flight

What is a turkey vulture doing in Michigan during the first part of February? That shows just how mild this winter has been, which is kind of funny. I am finishing this on Friday, and it is snowing hard outside right now. I’ll bet I don’t see the vulture again today, it is probably on its way back south where it belongs this time of year.

Friday

As I said, it is snowing hard this morning, it is turning colder and it is forecast to remain cold over the weekend. That’s OK, we do need some winter around here. 😉 I’ll be sticking close to home, more on that in a minute, first, my hike for the day. There really isn’t too much to say, as it was snowing hard. The closest I got to taking a photo was un-zipping my parka and putting my hand on the camera as I approached a cardinal. It flew off before I got close enough for a good shot. I did watch the mallards in the ponds for a while. Nature always reminds me how good we humans have it.

Since it stayed a little warmer overnight before the snow began, the ponds around here were more ice-free than they have been in a week or more. The ducks were out there feeding in the parts of the ponds that had open water, but, the snow was coming down so hard that the open water was acquiring a covering of slush. I wouldn’t want to be out there swimming in an ice-covered pond, leaving trails in the slush behind me, that’s my definition of cold! The ducks were out there having a good old time, better them than me.

I don’t mind the snow, although no matter how many times I inhale a snowflake up the nose, it still makes my nose itch.

Since there were no photos from today, I’ll throw in a couple that I didn’t use from last weekend’s hike in Hoffmaster State Park.

Just a sawed off log

Driftwood

Sun on an evergreen

I will be hiking here at home on Saturday, I stopped last night and did my grocery shopping. I picked up a beef roast for the crock pot, I’ll be eating well for a month from that. I think that on Sunday I’ll do one of the local parks, it depends on the weather.

For some reason, I haven’t had as much time this week to work on this, so I am somewhat displeased at the way this week’s summary is going. Actually, I know some of the reasons. For one thing, I am following too many other blogs. I know that WordPress encourages people to visit other blogs and “Like” them, leave a comment, and so on as a way to build a following for a blog, but I didn’t do it that way. I started out just adding content, and it took some time, but eventually, people started finding and following my blog. I am very grateful for the regular readers who follow my blog!

However, it seems as though there are a number of bloggers out there who are determined to drive the statistics for their blogs up by any means possible. Six posts in one day? Most of them nothing more than reblogging some one else’s post?

I know that there have been a couple of days when I posted twice, but I would like to think that there was some solid content to my posts, or when the Weekly Photo Challenge comes out.

So, I am “Unfollowing” a few blogs, which takes some time, keeping track of the ones that I do want to continue following, and noting those who post multiple times a day, without much content to them. Also, any blogs that are  done by commercial enterprises solely as a means of advertising, I won’t be following. I have been getting a lot of those of late, I am not interested in purchasing a travel trailer, a timeshare in Boca, or any of the other “blogs” that are nothing more than thinly disguised sales pitches.

There are many talented photographers and bloggers out there, then there are a lot of wannabes as well. I suppose that I actually fall under that category, but there is a purpose to this blog other than my photography, and that is understanding nature, and where the best places in Michigan are for that purpose. If you have a photography blog that you use to try to be “artsy-fartsy” and please the photography critics, I probably won’t follow your blog for very long, if at all. Been there, done that, years and years ago.

By trying to achieve critical acclaim, most budding photographers end up shooting their versions of photos that have already won critical acclaim.

Me, I go out there and shoot nature photos to tell a story, nature’s photojournalist if you will. If some of my photos turn out really well, that’s all the better. But, I don’t do photography to please the critics, I do it to please myself.

And, as far as the stats for my blog, yeah, big numbers are nice, but I would rather have half a dozen to a dozen faithful readers, than a one hundred “Likes” from people trying to build up their own stats.

So, the blogs I like are nature blogs, of course, travel blogs, because I love travelling and like seeing other parts of the world, and blogs by people who can actually tell a story, either through words or photo, or both.

Enough of that, on to Saturday.

Saturday

Well, well, well, a night and morning chock full of surprises, so good, some bad. The light dusting of one to two inches of snow that they were predicting turned into a full-blown snow storm overnight. It was going as predicted, I got to the Lansing, Michigan branch of the company I drive for, and it seemed the snow was letting up.

I had noted to myself on the way there that the way the weather has been so far this year, every snowstorm looks like the first snow of the year, it has been very nice in that respect, as well as the mild temps and more sunshine than average.

It is always amazing how quickly the weather can change. It took me about an hour to unload, then reload the trailer, and my first inkling at the changes were when I opened the door to go outside to the truck. The wind ripped the door out of my hand, nearly tearing it from the hinges, the light to moderate snow was now heavy snow, and the temperature was dropping like a rock. The local meteorologist reports that the temps fell 10 degrees in less than an hour.

Yet another flash freeze, everything outside was coated in a layer of ice, then the snow and blowing snow over it. Driving was miserable for the rest of the night, putting me way behind schedule. Then, to top off an already bad night, the truck broke down just a few miles from the end of my run.

I waited over an hour and a half for a service guy to show up, luckily it didn’t take too long to get the truck running again. He followed me to the company that my company leases the truck from so they can do the rest of the repairs needed, then the service guy was nice enough to drop me off at my company saving me a 4 mile walk in the cold and snow. But, between the bad roads and the breakdown, I didn’t get home until nearly 4 AM.

I woke up way too early for when I had gone to bed, but bright sunshine greeted my eyes when they opened, another surprise! Even though I wanted to sleep another hour or so, I got up, and took my walk, after coffee of course.

Another surprise! The swans are still here! I haven’t downloaded the photos yet, I am going to drink a cup of tea to warm up, then see what I managed to get today.

Wow! If I do say so myself, you’ll all be tired of swans if these two take up residence here, but I will love watching (and photographing) the cygnets as they grow up! Here’s the pictures.

Mute swan on ice

Until today, I never realized what large webbed feet they have.

Mute swan in flight

Coming in for a slippery landing, notice the use of the tail as a skid!

Mute swan landing on ice

Mute swan landing on ice

Mute swan landing on ice

Mute swan landing on ice

Here’s what I think is the male doing some stretching.

Mute swan on ice

I was hoping the male would take the short flight to the other end of the pond as its mate had done, but not at that time. I was getting cold, and didn’t want to disturb them too much, so I headed off, turning around to capture this one.

Mute swan on ice

But I couldn’t resist checking them out from another angle later on. As I was approaching the pond, the male did take flight, and I stood there trying to yank the camera out of my parka where it was safe and snug, but totally unusable. I did manage to get this one just as he slid to a stop, you can see how long of a skid it was by the pattern on the ice behind him.

Mute swan on ice

Then this one of the female resting.

Mute swan on ice

About that time a flock of geese flew over, giving me one of my funny, almost winner shots.

Canadian goose's butt

The geese were so low that they were actually too close to me, that doesn’t happen everyday. I was hoping that they would circle and join the swans, but no such luck.

As I continued my walk, the clouds returned, along with some snow, so I shot this one of a turkey taking it all in stride.

Turkey in the snow

To wrap this week up, last week started with a snowstorm, it turned warm, but cloudy, which continued this week, until it ended with another snowstorm. I am not quite as happy with this week’s installment as I was last week for the first one, but I had to free up more time to devote to this series, so hopefully, it will work out well.

I’m not completely sure where next weeks installment is going to start. Since I was so late getting home last night, I didn’t start the beef roast today, I’ll do that tomorrow. Also, tomorrow is supposed to start cloudy, but clear up in the afternoon, so I am thinking I’ll hike the local park near here tomorrow afternoon/evening, and see what I can come up with there. In the meantime, I have a couple of posts in the works that I need to finish, I’ll be posting them over the course of the next week or two.

As always, thanks for stopping by!


The Weekly Photo Challenge: Ready

Ready is really such an easy topic, I was having a hard time deciding which way to go with it, until today. I just got back from taking some of the best photos of my life, if I do say so myself.

I’ll start simple, a fox squirrel ready for lunch.

Fox squirrel

Then a close-up view.

Fox squirrel

And, another fox squirrel ready for lunch, this one has broken off a twig from a maple tree, and is busy chowing down on the buds on the twig.

Fox squirrel eating maple buds

A better view.

Fox squirrel eating maple buds

I am so ready for spring and to see green again that I took this one.

First green of spring?

I know, very good photos, but hardly spectacular, well, those are about to come. A pair of mute swans getting ready for their afternoon nap!

Mute swans

I could tell it was nap time by the yawns.

Mute swan yawning

A little more preening to fluff up the feathers…

Mute swan preening

Then it was time for them to lay their heads down for their nap.

Mute swans napping

It took a few minutes, but first one..

Mute swans napping

..then both drifted off to dreamland.

Mute swans napping

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


Mona and Muskegon Lake channels, and a sunset

After my hike in P. J. Hoffmaster State Park yesterday, my legs were tired, but I wasn’t ready to call it quits for the day. For one thing, the weather and the weather forecast led me to believe that there was the possibility of a vivid sunset occurring that evening. If that happened, I wanted to be there by Lake Michigan to capture it.

I was only a couple of miles from Lake Harbor Park, which is a city park on the north side of the channel that goes from Mona Lake to Lake Michigan, so I thought, why not zip over there and see what’s going on.

American Black Duck

Ducks were what was going on, apparently people feed them, as soon as they saw me, they came swimming over. I’m not used to that, normally I have to sneak up on my subjects, with these, I had trouble staying far enough away to get them all in the frame!

American Black Duck watching a mallard land

The American Black duck looks just about like a female mallard, but they are bigger, their head has a different shape, and they have a different quack than a mallard.

American Black Duck quacking

I know their quacks probably look the same, but believe me, they sound different.

American Black Duck

Oh come on now, please quack again so the readers can tell the difference.

American Black Duck

Thank you!

Actually, I think that this one is a hybrid, a cross between a true black duck and a mallard. That does happen from time to time. I guess I’m not sure what it is, but that’s my best guess.

There were mallards as well.

Male mallard

The way the late afternoon light was hitting this male made his head look blue, rather than green.

Male mallard

Either that, or I discovered two new species of ducks there. 😉 The almost American black duck…

American Black Duck

and the blue headed mallard.

Thankfully there were a few regular mallards there as well.

Mallards

I strolled the path that runs alone the end of Mona Lake, I watched an eagle hunting out over the lake for a while. It was too far away for photos, but I took some anyway. I’m not sure why I do that, I knew I would delete them when I saw them, and I did.

I did shoot a few of the herring gulls.

Herring gull landing

Zoomed in.

Herring gull landing

The gull has food of some type in its bill, and landed on the ice to chow down, away from all the other gulls in the area.

I was a bit bored with shooting gulls in flight over Mona Lake, so I drove a few more miles to the Muskegon Lake channel, and shot more gulls in flight over Muskegon Lake.

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

I figured what the heck, there wasn’t much else going on, and practicing shooting birds in flight is always worthwhile. Herring gulls are great practice, there are a lot of them, and they will fly close by, giving you lots of opportunities to practice, so I did.

Herring gull in flight

They may be called flying rats, and some other not so nice names, but I like them.

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

Bored with the gulls? How about a couple of male red-breasted mergansers?

Red-breasted mergansers

I couldn’t get close to them. As soon as I tried, they would dive, then pop back up on the other side of the channel, until some one tried to get close to them there, then they would come back towards me. Here’s a female red-breasted merganser taking off.

Female red-breasted merganser taking off

They have to “run” across the water to build up enough speed for flight.

Female red-breasted merganser

And when nothing else will cooperate, there’s always the gulls.

Herring gull in flight

It was getting near dusk, time for the sunset. I found a spot to hang out and wait for it, you wouldn’t believe how many people show up right around dusk every night to watch the sunset. As I was waiting, I noticed the moon rising, and flocks of gulls on their way out into the lake to spend the night, and you know me, a moon plus birds equals photo-op!

Herring gull in flight past the moon

The sun started to set…

Sunset over Lake Michigan

…but it wasn’t spectacular yet. I looked down in front of me, and the dune grass looked as if it was coated in spider webs, taking on the colors of the sunset!

Dune grass at sunset

I started shooting..

Dune grass at sunset

and shooting some more..

Dune grass at sunset

Dune grass at sunset

I like them all, lens flare and all.

Then the sun set.

Sunset over Lake Michigan

Sunset over Lake Michigan

It was an OK sunset, not as good as I had hoped.

Sunset over Lake Michigan

Sunset over Lake Michigan

All in all, not a bad day. That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


P. J. Hoffmaster State Park, North

On Saturday, I went hiking in P.J. Hoffmaster State Park, which isn’t that unusual, I have hiked there many times in the past. I have always hiked the southern part of the park, that’s where most of the hiking trails are, and it is away from the camping area. But, after seeing photos from the north end of the park on Plants Amaze Me blog, I wanted to hike the northern part of the park, which is what I did. All I can say is “Wow!, Why haven’t I done this before?”

I’ll start with some links from the Michigan DNR, first, the watchable wildlife page for Hoffmaster, then, the informational page about the park and camping, and finally, here’s a link to the map of trails.

First of all, we are so lucky here in the State of Michigan, Hoffmaster State Park is located between the cities of Grand Haven to the south, and Muskegon to the north, and yet, there are over three miles of beach area within the park. It’s no wonder our system of parks always ranks near the top when compared to other states!

There are 297 campsites in the park for those of you who may be interested in camping there, I would definitely make reservations early if you do, as it is one of the more popular state parks in Michigan.

Now, the hike. I parked in the beach parking area and started out on the walk-a-mile trail as I often do, but when I came to the beach, instead of turning south, for the first time, I headed north, towards the camping area. I was surprised how few people were in the park, the weather was about perfect for a winter day hike, in the 40’s, bright sunshine, and only a little bit of a breeze off from Lake Michigan.

There were lots of the typical Michigan tweety birds around, I didn’t manage to photograph any, but I wasn’t trying very hard either, for the most part. There were some golden crowned kinglets in the flocks of chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice, I was chasing them around, but never saw one long enough for a photo. Tough birds to photograph! They are even smaller than a chickadee, and spend all their time in evergreens, which means that about the only time you see them is when they are moving from branch to branch, or to another tree.

I did see this very, very large burl growing on the side of a tree.

Very large burl

It was at least 3 feet in diameter, I’m not sure if I have ever seen on that large before. A burl is a tree growth in which the grain has grown in a deformed manner. It is commonly found in the form of a rounded outgrowth on a tree trunk or branch that is filled with small knots from dormant buds. A burl results from a tree undergoing some form of stress. It may be caused by an injury, virus or fungus.

Then I came to the beach.

Lake Michigan beach

One of the main attractions is the sand dunes.

Sand dune in Hoffmaster State Park

But I have posted many photos of the dunes before. I will post a couple of photos of the beach for newer readers who aren’t familiar with the Great Lakes. People hear Lake Michigan, and they assume it to be like a lake they are familiar with, but the Great Lakes are called great for a reason. They are inland freshwater seas more than lakes. Ocean going vessels make their way up the Saint Lawrence Seaway to call at ports on the Great Lakes.

Lake Michigan beach, looking north towards Muskegon

Sparkles dancing on Lake Michigan, looking west towards Milwaukee, Wisconsin

What’s notable about the first one is that there is no ice! It’s the first of February and Lake Michigan is almost ice-free!

I continued walking north to where Little Black Creek flows into Lake Michigan.

Little Black Creek flowing into Lake Michigan

The creek and the lake are always fighting each other, aided by the sand and the wind. The prevailing westerly winds off from the lake push sand around, trying to dam up any creek or river flowing into Lake Michigan. The rivers and creeks are constantly changing their course, cutting new paths into the lake through the sand. If you were to go to this spot a few weeks from now, you would probably find that the scene had changed somewhat. All this leads to some interesting patterns in the sand and water.

Sand and water

Sand and water

Sand and water

Sand and water

Sand and water

Here’s a shot of the battle taking place.

The battle of sand, water, and wind

Since there wasn’t much wind this day, the waves on Lake Michigan were small, very small for the lake, so the creek was busy trying to cut itself a shorter course through the sand.

The battle of sand, water, and wind

Blue water, blue sky, tan sand, and a weathered tree stump make for a great photo.

Lake Michigan at Little Black Creek

Even without a weathered tree stump!

Lake Michigan at Little Black Creek

I continued on, crossing a bridge over the creek, and walked the Ridgeview trail, which took me up above the creek on the north side of it. Along the way, I saw this interesting tree, this happens quite often.

Two rooted tree

As the sand eroded away from the tree’s original root system, the tree grew another root system and a new portion of trunk to keep itself alive, leaving the remnants of the original root system about four feet above the sand.

Here’s a view of Little Black creek looking back to the south from on top of the sand dune.

Little Black Creek flowing into Lake Michigan

And another shot taken with my Canon.

Little Black Creek and Lake Michigan

I walked the Ridgeview trail until it joined the Little Black Creek trail, and it was there that I saw the only downer of the day.

A dredged tributary to Little Black Creek

I’m not sure what body of water this is, but the creek has been destroyed by straightening it out into nothing more than a slow-moving slough. OK, I looked it up on my map, it is Seider Drain. I’ll bet that at one time, it was a pretty little creek.

I tried to get a good photo of Little Black Creek to show how a creek should look, but between the light and other factors, I wasn’t able to.

I stopped at a bench on the north side of Little Black Creek and took a nice long break from my hike. It was wonderful! Sitting there in the warm sunshine, listening to the birds and the creek.

Taking a break

This isn’t the bench, but one of the others along the trail, and I love the words!

A bench in Hoffmaster State Park

I started back towards my vehicle, following the beach.

Looking south towards Grand Haven, Michigan

On the way, for some reason, I noticed what looked to be a part of a twig moving on the beach, right at the water’s edge.

It's ALIVE!

It isn’t really part of a twig, well, it was at one time, now it is being used by a case building nymph of some type of insect as its home and shelter. I saw several of these, I don’t know if they had been washed on shore, if they had molted their skins, or what the deal was. I am glad that I pay attention to everything though, or I would have missed this.

In all, I hiked over 5 miles, I don’t have the exact distance yet, I haven’t downloaded from my GPS unit yet. This is the first time I have used it in a while, and it drove me crazy yesterday. The rechargeable battery didn’t last the first mile, it lost its fix every time I walked through an area like this…

The deep woods in Hoffmaster State Park

…I can’t find a convenient place to carry it and my cameras and other gear, and the set of alkaline batteries had to be nursed for them to make it to the end of the hike.

I don’t really need to post my map of the park anyway, you can use the link from the beginning of this post for the State’s map. I walked the Walk-a-mile trail to the beach, the beach to Little Black Creek where I picked up the Ridgeview trail, then that and the Little Black Creek trail back to the campground and to the beach, then the beach back to where I had parked.

It was a fairly easy hike, one thing about walking the sand dunes in the winter, the sand is frozen and doesn’t shift from under your feet with every step. Still, my legs were tired by the end, there aren’t any hills around here where I do my two miles a day, and the dunes are more work than I am used to, unfortunately. My legs were tired, but the rest of me wanted more, and since it was only late afternoon, I took another little excursion which I will post about later, and you may not want to miss that one!

Anyway, if you ever get the chance to visit P. J. Hoffmaster State Park here in Michigan, you’ll be glad you did! It may be busy during the summer months, especially if Lake Michigan warms up to swimming temperatures, but there’s lots of room to roam around, and lots of wonderful things to be seen!

That’s it for this one, I am off to walk Muskegon State Park today, thanks for stopping by!


My week….Getting dumped on!

Since I began this post, I have had a brainstorm, maybe. My understanding is that blogs started out as people’s daily journals, and I guess I am going to get back to basics in that regard. I am not going to bore you all with all the details of my life, heck, you don’t need to know them anyway. But I do want a record of both my daily hikes, and the larger adventures that I go on over the weekends when I am able to. So, I am going to start a series called “My week” where I jot down a few notes about the weather, what I see on my daily hikes, and as much else as I feel fits into this series as I go. It will be a place for me to throw in a few photos from time to time, and I am sure that it will be something that I will love going back through later in life.

Some of you may find this incredibly dull, sorry about that. They will all be titled “My week…something” so you can skip these if you like. I find that it is the little details that are important when it comes to understanding nature, so that’s the real purpose of this series, to record the little details of my daily hikes.

But, rather than do a short post each day and really bore every one, I will start a new week on Sunday, then add to it each day as I go, and post it on Saturday, I think, we’ll see how that works.

I am starting this on Sunday, just before noon. The weather here has been a roller coaster ride all this month of January, warm for a few days, then a shot of cold, then it warms up again. On Friday, it was 47 degrees, bright and sunny, about the perfect winter day here in West Michigan.

Saturday morning I awoke, looked out the window, and, I started to say that I couldn’t believe the difference, but this is Michigan, I have seen it all before. Anyway, it was snowing and blowing hard yesterday, until around noon when the snow let up, and the sun came out for a while. The winds were still roaring though, it was chilly when I went for my walk.

Today, we are getting dumped on. The forecast was for 2 to 6 inches, I think we’re well above that already this morning. I’ll know for sure when I go for my walk today, but I haven’t been able to see anything other than the parking lot all morning. Visibility is almost zero at times when there is any wind at all, luckily, it isn’t blowing much today, or it would be even worse. I don’t know if there will be any photos, that remains to be seen after I get back from my walk.

I am going to walk around the apartment complex today, I don’t feel like driving in this mess. That’s one thing about driving for a living, it abbreviates my desires to go out and play in the snow in a vehicle. I do have some errands to run later in the day, that will be more than enough playing in the snow for me these days.

One of the reasons for a post about the weather is because of the number of flash freezes we have had around here this January. Earlier this week, we had rain with thunder showers, and the day after, it turned so cold so quickly that the water from the rain froze in place. That happened again on Saturday, about the fourth or fifth time this month.

We haven’t had a lot of snow, none of the snowstorms until this one have materialized as forecast. I would be worried about the levels of the rivers, but instead of snow, we’ve had rain, lots of it. The thunder showers earlier this week dropped nearly an inch of rain.

It hasn’t been cold for around here even during our short-lived cold snaps. I think we have had one night when the temperature dropped below zero, that’s a mild winter by our normal standards. Of course February is coming up, and that is historically our coldest month, but the long-range forecast shows our mild winter continuing for at least a few more weeks.

I’ve done my walk now, and a few notable things about it. From the time I started getting dressed to head outdoors, to the time I actually stepped out the door, the snow had stopped. Not long after that, the sun came out for a while again, just like on Saturday. The two days were almost exact repeats of each other with the exception of the wind, it was much more pleasant on Sunday.

Another thing, I wore an old pair of Redwing hikers that I bought long before I purchased the New Balance boots I normally wear. The Redwings are in a lot better shape, I seldom wear them, and now I remember why. They may be built like tanks, to last forever, but they weigh as much as a tank. Each of the Redwing boots weigh more than the pair of the New Balance together. The Redwwings also have very hard plastic soles, they probably won’t wear out like the New Balance have, but the Redwings offer very little traction on slick surfaces because the soles are so hard. I fell once, in part because I was making sure my cameras were protected if I did fall when I started slipping in the first place. I’ve had that problem with them before, whether it is wet rocks, hard packed snow, or ice, the Redwings are like wearing skates, all I do is slip and slide all over the place. The Redwings also cost more than twice as much as the New Balance, but I would rather buy two pairs of the New Balance rather than one pair of the Redwings.

I didn’t see any critters to shoot, at least not close enough to make it worthwhile. I did take a few of the snowy landscape around here.

Snow on the pines

Snow on the spruce

Ice from the flash freeze

Duck track in a creek

So much for Sunday.

Monday

Monday dawned cloudy, and the warm up was already in progress when I made it outdoors. We have had around a half a dozen flash freezes here this winter, and then it turns around and melts almost as fast as it froze. I did my hike, didn’t take any photos worth posting, that’s a rarity around here. I won’t say it was boring, but even though I went back to my New Balance hikers, I had to watch my step, every step. The snow removal crew hired this year is the pits, they did less than half of the complex on Sunday, then returned and didn’t finish on Monday. Time for a complaint to management. I know that has nothing to do with nature, except that I couldn’t be on the lookout for subjects to photograph when I was so busy dodging cars, slush, and slick spots as I was walking. By the time I went to work, the sun was out, and the day ended beautifully, too bad I had to work!

Tuesday

I guess my need for extra sleep is over with, I am back to waking up in time to make it outdoors for my walk well before noon. I had high hopes for the day, warm, bright, sunny, another fabulous mid-winter day. It was wonderful out there, even with a stiff south wind. I never zipped up my parka, and never tucked the Nikon in my parka the way I do when it is cold out. I saw quite a few birds, but couldn’t get close to any of them. Between the wet sloppy snow left from the 6 to 8 inches we received on Sunday, the huge snow piles that blocked my paths at times, and I think the winds, this is the best photo I could come up with for the day.

Mourning dove

I did see a hawk several times, always in flight, never close enough for a truly great shot, but I did manage this one, just for practice.

Hawk in flight

My run of luck as far as photography that began a couple of weeks before Christmas is over. That’s OK, there will be another one shortly, there always is. I am beginning to get the itch for spring, but not for the normal reasons. That happens to me every year around the end of January, because we have usually had two and a half months of clouds, cold, and snow. Not this winter! It has been great as far as being mild with a lot more sunshine than is typical for us here. And ironically, it is the run of luck that has me itching for spring. How many great close-up photos of downy woodpeckers can I take?

Male downy woodpecker

I find myself passing up shots that I would have loved to have gotten just a month ago. I suppose that’s the price of success. 🙂

I need to head somewhere other than the apartment complex or the nearby county park this weekend in hopes of finding new subjects to shoot. Maybe Muskegon? We’ll see how the weather is going to be. The poor meteorologists have been wrong more than right this winter. Yesterday, the predicted high for today was around 40, it was warmer than that when I got up. The new prediction is for the mid-fifties, they were only off 10 to 15 degrees 24 hours ago. They are predicting the mild weather to continue through the weekend, although not as warm as today, we will see.

I’m not getting bored with my daily walks, even though I’m not taking as many photos, there is still much to see, and much to learn, even about the familiar species.

Red bellied woodpecker

Northern cardinal

Wednesday

I am beginning to see some utility in this series that I am hoping to do already. One thing I have been forgetting to mention is that I haven’t been seeing many wild turkeys this winter. I was wondering why, until it hit me, the new swamp in town! A while back I noted that the creek behind my apartment has been partially blocked by something, that happened late last summer. I didn’t know that until fall, when the trees dropped their leaves, and I could see that the wooded area behind my apartment is now flooded, and a new swamp was born. No wonder I’m not seeing as many turkeys, one of their regular feeding areas is now under water! I haven’t been able to get back in there to see what has blocked the creek, the ground has never frozen completely for me to go wandering around back there.

After a high temperature in the low fifties yesterday, we are going to “cool off” to the 40’s today. There’s some sun and clouds as I am getting ready to head out for my walk with the clouds thickening from when I woke up. I hope they hold off until I finish.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. During my walk the clouds thickened up to turn it into a dark and dreary day. No problem, other than photography wise. The first thing of note was that after three days of fighting the snow and ice, now that it has all melted, they sent the salt truck around here to salt down the clear streets. Makes sense to me, NOT! I’ll have another dumb human story later I think.

I did see several flocks of goldfinches flying around, and the ever-present tweety birds, the chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice, but none close enough for a photo. I also saw three geese in flight, those are the first geese I have seen in a couple of weeks. They were flying high, on their way to who knows where, it will be nice when the ponds thaw and the waterfowl return.

There are still a few mallards hanging around in the creeks, and feeding under the bird feeders that some people have placed near the creeks. I was going to shoot some pictures of one small flock, but they took flight, surprising the heck out of me. I wasn’t that close to them, sort of the story of the day.

It’s odd the way one day I’ll be able to get very close to almost all the wildlife I see, then on the next day, they all run for cover at the first sight of me. They are the same critters for the most part, although it is hard to tell with birds, especially migratory birds like ducks. With them, it could be that they are new arrivals to the area, I can’t tell one mallard from another, they all look the same other than the difference between the males and females.

Another thought that I have been forming is this. I have meant to mention this before (I think I am going to love doing this series!) is that when you walk the same place day after day after day, you learn “hot spots”. By hot spots, I mean places where I am sure to see wildlife. Those hot spots come and go. For example, the crab apple tree that the goldfinches were feeding in just a short while back, or the mountain ash trees the robins and other birds were feeding in.

What has me wondering is why certain trees and their fruit attract birds, when other trees of the same species bearing the same fruit are not touched by the birds, at least not at the same time. There are around a dozen mountain ash trees planted around here, and all have berries on them. But, the birds were only feeding on the berries from a few trees that are planted in clusters of three or four. I thought about doing some taste testing myself to see if I could tell the difference between the berries from different clusters of trees, but I’m not sure that it would tell me anything.

I can sort of understand with the crab apple trees and fruit, there are many different cultivars of crabs planted here, for the different colors of flowers they produce. I would assume then that there could be a difference in the taste of the crab apples based on the specific species.

But even that doesn’t tell the entire story. Both the mountain ash and the crab apples the birds were feeding on still have lots of fruit left on them, but the birds have stopped feeding on them. That begs so many questions, such as, was it one flock of birds feeding on the berries that has now moved out of the area, and the other birds of the same species I am seeing are different birds? Do birds feed so heavily on one food source that they get tired of that source and move on to another for a while, only to return later?

Of course I don’t have the proper credentials to ever land a research grant to study those types of things, and it would be nigh on to impossible anyway. Unless you could come up with a way to identify every individual bird, there’s no way you could ever come to any solid conclusions.

The days of the amateur naturalist like the John Muirs, the John James Audubons are over with, and scientific studies these days are so narrowly focused that in my opinion anyway, they aren’t worth much. I would love to be paid to study wildlife on my terms, looking at the big picture at all times, but that’s not the way it is done now. The study has to focus in like a laser beam on one aspect of one specie’s behavior to the point where I believe the studies are about useless. Nature is a complex thing, the scientists will tell you that if you dare to disagree with them, yet they attempt to not take that complexity into account when they do their studies.

Oh well, maybe I should turn my stalking and photographic abilities towards some celebrity of the moment, like Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton, and get paid for it. Just how stupid are we humans that we even care what those celebrities do? Funny, I could get paid for stalking a celebrity, but there’s no way to make a living studying nature, something that really matters to all of us.

Anyway, I did almost step on another pair of mallards latter on during my walk.

Male mallard

I shot these out of reaction, and for practice.

Male mallard taking off

Normally, I wouldn’t have posted either of those, but I don’t think that I can stress too much that you have to practice shooting quickly on a regular basis if you expect to ever get a good shot. More light may have been enough to freeze the action, but I was leading the duck too much as well. One of these days all these bad shots will pay off, and I will get a great shot of a mallard in flight!

And I guess I will throw in a turkey shot as well, just for the heck of it.

Wild turkey

On to Thursday!

Thursday

I guess you would call it mostly cloudy and mild, there were a few peeks at the sun as I went for my daily walk, but for most of the time it was cloudy. As I was getting dressed to head on out, the chickadees and titmice were finishing off the stale bread I threw out on the balcony for them. There are times I think I should just stay in my easy chair and shoot tons of bird, squirrel, and raccoon photos through the slider to the balcony. 😉 Actually, that’s how I started photographing the wildlife around here. Then, I decided I needed to get back in shape, so I started the daily hikes, but I didn’t take a camera at first. I don’t remember if it was the flowers in bloom or the herons in the ponds that prompted me to start carrying a camera with me, but I did. I wish I had been blogging back then.

I didn’t talk to any one today, which isn’t unusual. Every once in a while some one will ask me about my photography, typically they ask me if I am taking pictures of the turkeys. When I run down the short list of wildlife that I see around here, most people are amazed, they have no idea that there are so many species of critters around here. I guess no one can take their eyes of their TV long enough to look out their windows.

Today’s hike started well enough, I was greeted by the tweety birds almost as soon as I stepped out the door.

Black capped chickadee

Another thing that puzzles me about the feeding habits of the tweety birds is why one day they all seem to stick to the tops of trees, another day they all work the mid-sections of trees, then, on other days, they will all be near the ground. That’s the way it was today, even the downy woodpeckers were close to or even on the ground. I didn’t get a photo as I wasn’t very close, but I should have snapped on any way, just for the record.

There for a while, I was surrounded by a good sized flock of tweety birds, but only the chickadees were in the mood to be photographed.

Black capped chickadee

What that one was doing, I have no idea. It was tugging away at the broken off plant stem for some reason, maybe for exercise? 🙂

I saw a red tailed hawk in the distance, first perched near the top of a large tree, then later as it was hunting over the field to the west of here. The red tailed don’t spend much time here, most of the time I see them soaring past on their way to one of the fields around the complex where I live.

I was thinking about that, and how much different the habits of the sharp shinned hawks are when something hit me that I’ll get to in a minute here. The larger red tailed hawks typically perch high in a large tree when they do perch, much of the time when they are hunting they are soaring overhead. The sharp shinned on the other hand stick to the woods, low in the trees, and I have been surprised at how low they fly, and how close to the apartment buildings they get. Here’s a shot from a few days ago.

Sharp shinned hawk in flight

I’m surprised I recovered quickly enough to get that shot! The hawk startled the crap out of me, because it was perched on one of the air conditioning units that are hidden by a ring of planted shrubs. The thought that a hawk of any species would come busting out of the shrubbery never had crossed my mind before. Tweety birds, yes, hawks, no!

That’s when my thought of the day hit me, it is almost like starting out from scratch as far as observing wildlife for me. Here I am, almost 57 years old, some one who has always spent a great deal of time in the outdoors, and I know so little about so many species!

The reason for that is this, it is almost as if there are many “new” species to observe!

When I was a kid growing up, red tailed hawks were rare, you would see a few every year. Seldom did you see a turkey vulture, turkeys hadn’t been re-introduced here in Michigan yet, there were no eagles nesting in the lower peninsula of Michigan, and on it goes.

I saw my first little green heron back in the late eighties, I heard them first. There was a stand of pines back behind the house my ex and I lived in, and after hearing the strange calls coming from the pines, I went investigating, and found a pair of little green heron nesting in the pines.

I have noted before how much of a comeback many species of wildlife are making, but it never hit me until today what that means to me as far as how much that there is for me to learn. It is almost as if I have moved to a different region of the country.

Another example.

Mute swans in flight

You didn’t see any swans back when I was a kid, now, I have to look to see if they are mute swans or trumpeters.

Of course there are still many old familiar species.

A crow in flight

Those are my bird in flight practice shot for the day. Actually, I have several of the chickadees in flight as well, but the light was so poor due to the clouds that the chickadees are not much more than grey fuzzballs in those photos. Neither the swan or the crow photos are all that great either, the swans are there for the purpose of the story, and for some reason I like the crow photo, I guess it is because most people have such a low opinion of crows. The exposure of the crow photo may be bad, but I like the way that the crow appears to be almost regal in flight. I’ll bet that if I hadn’t identified the subject as a crow, most people would have assumed it to be a hawk or even an eagle. Perception, I could do a series on that. Crows do nature’s dirty work, feeding on dead carcasses, therefore crows are hardly a revered species of bird.

I saw many other birds as well, like goldfinches, too far away for photos though. I also heard one of the goldfinches singing, not just chirping. It was a male singing its spring mating song. I also noticed the buds on some of the maple trees are getting huge. Spring is on its way, even though we haven’t had much of a winter yet. All the wildlife is beginning to act differently around here, I guess getting ready for spring. I am sure we’ll have a few more cold snaps before that happens, and more snow.

I am still planning on going to the Muskegon area this weekend, Saturday looks like it will be the best day for that. I was thinking Muskegon State Park since it’s been a while since I have been there, but after reading another blogger’s post on P. J. Hoffmaster State Park, I think I’ll go there. I have been there many times before, but I never hiked the north part of the park, what a mistake that has been!

That reminds me, I need to add a link to Plants amaze me blog. That’s a blog by another West Michigan resident, turns out we hike many of the same parks from time to time. But, it’s always nice to get some one else’s perspective on things, like Hoffmaster State Park. The north end is the campground area, and I typically shy away from the camping areas of parks, too many people. It’s winter, there’s no one camping there, and I have missed out on the Black Creek area of Hoffmaster.

Let’s see, I think that’s it for today. No, one more photo.

Ice patterns on a pond

I have a bunch of photos of the different patterns in the ice on the ponds and creeks around here, I’ll get around to posting them one of these days. On to Friday.

Friday

Today was supposed to be the sunniest day of the week, but it isn’t starting out that way. Right now it is about as cloudy and dreary as it gets, but, it is still hard to believe that the week started with snow two days in a row, and a lot of snow on Sunday. It is all gone except for the snow piles left by the plows.

Since I am waiting to go for my hike, hoping the clouds break up at least a little, there are a couple of other things I’ll touch on.

One, on Monday night while driving the truck for work, I had this idiot who insisted he was going to tailgate me, something I will not stand for. I won’t bore you with the entire story, just the crux of the story. The guy was so ticked off that I wouldn’t let him tailgate me that he wrote a letter to my employer, complaining about the actions I took. The guy is such a complete idiot that he started the letter with “I was drafting your truck down I 69″. The idiot included his phone number, so my boss called him to get the entire story. On the phone, the guy again started out with ” I was drafting your truck”, so my boss asked him how close he was following behind me, and the idiot was dumb enough to admit that it was about 10 feet or so. More like 3 feet at times. Anyway, my boss read him the riot act for following me so closely, or so my boss told me. When I first started where I work now, my boss followed me a couple of nights without my knowing it to make sure I was a safe driver, so he knows the idiot is an idiot.

I have been involved in two accidents in the 6 years I have been driving truck, both times I was rear-ended by drunks. At least once a week I pull over to the shoulder and stop to get a tailgater off my rear bumper, which is what I did to the idiot to make him so upset. I have had people who were so insistent on tailgating me that when I have pulled over and stopped, they have stopped as well. I just sit there until they finally move on, but I can not believe how dumb some people are, well, I can, but I would like to have more faith in the human race than I do.

That reminds me, I would never be able to land a grant to study the eating habits of birds, and like I said before, I could probably earn a living stalking and photographing celebrities. It hit me this morning, I need to move to California and study the eating habits of the phony celebrities!

That may not be necessary, there’s other news on the job front as well. One of the route drivers where I work is retiring, and I have bid on the job. I have found out that the company isn’t as cheap as my pay led me to believe, they pay the route drivers well, very well for what they do. I would be making twice what I am now, I can live on that! I would also be working days, which I prefer, even though it would have a negative effect on my blog here, in a way. I wouldn’t be able to get in a daily hike during daylight hours in the winter, but it would mean more trips on the weekends, and I would even get to take my vacation! We’ll see whether they promote me or not, right now, it’s time for my hike. The clouds aren’t breaking up, but it will be a good day anyway.

Well, back from my walk, and it was a good day, almost a fantastic day. A day when I almost got a few shot of a lifetime type of shots. Almost, the story of my life. 🙂

It started off as usual, I shot a photo of a pair of mallards sleeping in the first creek I came to. I’m not going to bother to post it, it isn’t very good, and the creek is getting filled with trash, mainly empty plastic shopping bags. I think that this spring, I will have to do a creek clean-up around here on all the creeks, whether management will assist or not, I’ll check on later.

I continued on, watching a few tweety birds in the distance, it was such a cloudy day, I didn’t even try to get close. There are times I have to remind myself that I do the hikes for exercise, not photo excursions. I noticed that the edges of the first pond I came to have begun to thaw, there’s just a couple of feet of open water right on the edge. Then, I spotted a pair of mallards in the reeds in what little open water there is. I thought that I would snap a photo, just to record how little open water that mallards will use. As I was zooming in and getting ready to shoot, the male started quacking like mad, not that unusual, what with me standing not that far away. I assumed that they were about to take flight, feeling exposed with so little room to swim. I put the camera on the male, and as soon as I saw motion, I snapped the shutter.

I saw a blur of motion as the mirror locked up, I wasn’t sure what I had gotten, but when the mirror reset, the ducks weren’t there. I zoomed out, caught the sight of something brown in flight, zoomed back in, shot, and thought to myself, that was no duck! Sure enough, the mirror reset, I looked, and it was the sharp shinned hawk!

So, here are the photos.

Mallards diving

Because of this hawk.

If I hadn’t been so intent of getting a close up of the ducks taking off, I wouldn’t have zoomed in as far, and the hawk would have been in the frame when I shot the first shot. An almost winner as Bozo used to say.

It does answer the question as to whether or not a sharpie will try for mallards, the mallards seem to think so, as does the sharpie.

I took a few more shots of the hawk, both stationary and in flight, this is the best of a bad lot.

Sharp shinned hawk

With the light as poor as it was today, I’m surprised the first two came out as well as they did.

I did go back to the mallards and took this shot of them, it’s kind of funny how quickly they returned to their normal behavior after the hawk made a pass at them.

Mallards on ice

Not much else to note about most of the rest of the walk, for one thing I was deep in thought about what I had in my camera, not knowing what I had captured, thinking how I would write this up, and thinking about work. I got all the way to the other end of the complex, and was in the process of telling myself to pay more attention to what was going on, when I heard the unmistakable sounds of large wings in flight. I say unmistakable, but I’m not sure how to describe the sound, sort of a mechanical, rhythmical whistling I guess is the best I can do.

I could tell the birds were close, and I could tell that they were large, even larger than the few geese I had seen early on. I was in an area with many medium sized trees, both evergreens and deciduous, and I had my neck swiveling like crazy trying to spot the birds, then I did. A pair of mute swans, flying very low, and very, very close!

I pulled up, pressed the shutter release halfway down to get the camera into action, and it took forever for the auto-focus to lock on to the swans. This is what I came up with.

Bad shot of a mute swan in flight

Drat! A split second quicker and I would have had an excellent shot of a mute swan in flight! My only defense is that the swans were obviously very low, since I was standing on a hill, they weren’t much higher than eye level. The opening between the trees was very small as well. I did race around the tree, hoping for another chance, but there was never an opening in the trees large enough for me to get the swans in the viewfinder and in focus before they were behind other trees again.

I took this shot of a yellow berry to remind myself to check all the settings for the auto-focus of my camera again. I think I have discovered yet another glitch in the way the camera functions.

Yellow berry

I am going to publish this today, Friday, because I am going to go to Muskegon tomorrow, maybe even Sunday as well. Sometimes I wonder why I go anywhere else other than the apartment complex here. I doubt if I will see as much wildlife this weekend as I do around home here. Well, it isn’t just the wildlife, I feel the need for some landscape shots for a change of pace.

This is my first attempt at this weekly post, and so far, I think this format will work out great! Time will tell. I’m hoping my hikes in Muskegon go so well that they each get their own post, or at least one to cover the weekend, we’ll see how that turns out. But next week, I’ll start another weekly post on my at home hikes. Thanks for stopping by!