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.
So much for Sunday.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
I shot these out of reaction, and for practice.
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.
On to 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!