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

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!

13 responses

  1. I, for one, do like your blog, and I enjoy reading about your hikes and adventures in my “home” part of the state of Michigan. By the way, I really liked your photos of the Mute Swans.

    February 11, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    • Thanks Bob, and I enjoy reading yours as well.

      February 11, 2012 at 5:38 pm

  2. I like it too, which is why I keep coming back. You and it are more “real” than many. When I was heavily into photography I always shot landscapes and macros of plants and flowers (still do) and rarely animals, so I like seeing shots of birds and animals. I think i’m basically lazy-I don’t have to chase plants-so I’m happy to let you do the work. Of course, you’re also the one with two new free belt holes, and that’s exactly what I need! Maybe I’d better start tracking those skittish gray squirrels.

    February 11, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    • Thank you! If any of us could keep up with the squirrels, none of us would have to worry about our waistlines!

      February 11, 2012 at 8:52 pm

  3. Northern Narratives

    I love the photos of the mute swan .And I like the goldfinch. I was so happy to see a large flock of gold finch arrive to my back yard this week. They have been enjoying the bird feeders and scratching all over the ground.

    February 11, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    • Thank you! It looks like it may be an early spring this year if they have returned to your neck of the woods.

      February 11, 2012 at 8:54 pm

  4. What a great week of review and variety! The fox squirrel posing….absolutely cute & charming. The sun on the evergreen….stunning! As if God lit it up for you to capture. You captioning ‘goose’s butt’…I did LOL! (Husband responded to my laugh, “What?” 🙂

    Love your mute swans too, awesome captures of the landing and sliding, they sure do have great balance, don’t they! Thanks for sharing your week!

    February 11, 2012 at 9:05 pm

    • Thanks again! I hope you don’t mind that I have added a link to your blog from mine.

      February 12, 2012 at 12:09 am

      • not at all, thanks! 🙂

        February 12, 2012 at 9:54 am

  5. I also LOVE your nature and photography blog. I enjoy going along with you on your walks. I do the same ) And I love the mute swan photos. I haven’t seen any around here for a long time. We have LOTS of trumpeters though. The squirrels are cute too.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    • Thank you, love your blog as well! If you ever find that you have too many trumpeters, send a few this way please. We have too many mute swans, they are driving the trumpeters away.

      February 14, 2012 at 2:47 am

  6. Great swan and fox squirrel photos!

    I know what you mean about following too many blogs. I found myself bogged down trying to follow way too many and have had to pare the numbers down, just because there isn’t enough time. I also started posting weekly, and can put some more thought into the posts I do make. Balance in all things!

    February 14, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    • Thank you! That’s the funny thing about the blogoshere, the people who’s post I look forward to the most, like yourself, only post once a week or so. Then there are those people who post junk not worth reading several times per day. I have some more paring to do, I’m spending as much time reading other blogs as working on my own.

      February 15, 2012 at 2:16 am