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

Archive for March, 2012

My Week…Spring is back

The My Week series of posts is a daily running journal that I do on the walks that I take daily around the apartment complex where I live. I’m located just south of the second largest city in Michigan, Grand Rapids, in the southwest part of the state. It was inspired in part by the phenology project done by Rebecca on her blog, Rebecca in the Woods.

Here you will find my thoughts about the wildlife that share this area, and maybe my thoughts on a news item I have read that pertains to nature or the environment.

This post covers the week from March 25 to March 31, 2012

Sunday

A beautiful spring day out there today! If you can picture the perfect spring day, then it would look just like today was! The temperature was in the mid-sixties, light breeze, and hardly a cloud in the sky for the first lap. On the second lap, a few very white puffy cumulus clouds formed.

I stopped to take pictures of the trout lilies that have begun to bloom.

Trout lily

Coming back out of the woods, I looked up to see this.

Red-tailed hawk carrying a chipmunk

I assume the hawk was carrying the chipmunk back to its mate.

At the first creek crossing, I watched as a pair of mallards were reaching up on the bank to pull leaves into the water, then eating something off from the leaves. I tried to get a photo to show me what they were finding to eat, but it didn’t work, I wonder what it could have been? Earthworms perhaps? Whatever it was, they must have found it tasty, they were both going nuts pulling the leaf litter into the water, then gobbling down what ever they found in the leaves to eat, as if they were starving.

At the back pond there were signs of life, human life. A family was there fishing, first time that I have seen that. I doubt if it explains why no waterfowl or wading birds are using that pond though.

At the long back pond, one of the mated swans was back.

Mute swan

And once again, it looked as if the gander was trying to chase the swan off.

Mute swan and Canadian goose

Once again, it didn’t work, the swan gets into its defensive posture, the gander circles for a little while, then swims back to his mate. I wonder how any times they play that game?

There seems to be a pattern, the lone swan arrives in the afternoon after spending its mornings someplace else. I still wonder about its mate, I did a drive by at the chain of lakes looking for the other swan last week and didn’t see it. There are so many little ponds and lakes around here that it would take me a day to check them all, and I wouldn’t be able to tell from that anyway. The swan could move while I was between bodies of water.

If I were a good wildlife photographer, I would be noting all the trees I see the birds carrying nesting materials to, so I could photograph the mothers on the nests, and the young when they arrive. But, I don’t do that. I leave nesting birds alone as much as I can, unless I stumble on their nests, like the ones under the carports here. Speaking of nests, I think the goose in the long back pond has nested.

Goose on a nest?

I gave her a wide berth when I noticed how she reacted to me spotting her, trying to make herself smaller than she is. She never moved or made a sound either.

I think that today was the first day in some time that I didn’t see a new arrival as far as migrating birds. It’s getting harder all the time to keep track of them, there is almost always a bird in flight in my view at all times. A good many of them are English sparrow and starlings, but there are dozens of robins, goldfinches, and other birds all zooming all over the place as they defend their territories and build nests as well. It is also getting harder to photograph them as the leaves bud out on the trees, as it gives them more hiding places. As if they needed more places to hide.

There were some first for the season today though, first bug in the eye, first bug in the ear, and first face full of spider web. It is definitely spring again!

Today was a photography kind of day, so I’m going to throw in a few more photos.

Black capped chickadee

Morning cloak butterfly on maple flowers

Robin grooming

Red-winged blackbird

Sharp shinned hawk in flight

Cedar waxwing

There’s another pattern around here on weekends when I do two laps like today. For the first lap, I have the place to myself, other than car traffic on the streets. By the time I start my second lap, then other people walking, jogging, biking, and so on come outside. It does’t seem to affect the wildlife much, although the other people sometimes spook off critters I was stalking. It’s not nearly as bad as in most of the parks near here, and not really a problem. The biggest problem I have is making sure that I’m not standing in the middle of the street. Sometimes I get so caught up in circling a bird or something, trying to get just the right lighting, and I find myself standing in the road. Oops.

That’s it for Sunday, on to Monday.

Monday

The weather forecasters were off by 10 to 15 degrees for today, they were predicting a high of around 60 degrees, that has been revised to the mid to upper 40’s. I don’t mind that at all, I should move to an even cooler climate than Michigan. Just noting how inaccurate the forecasts seem to be much of the time.

As far as I’m concerned, another perfect spring day! It was much cooler than yesterday, which suits me just fine. I like wearing a jacket. 🙂

The big news of the day, life in the back pond! As I was approaching, I could hear a pair of geese honking away in the pond, they took off before I got to the pond, circled a few times….

Canadian geese in flight

…then landed in the pond again. I would say that’s my bad action shot of the day, but it’s actually not too bad! The bad action shots are coming up in a minute or so.

The geese were nervous though, I wonder why. I stuck around for a few minutes, not only to watch the geese, but to watch this guy.

Kingfisher

It would hover over the pond…

Kingfisher

…then dive when it spotted a fish…

Kingfisher diving into the water

…it didn’t seem to be doing too well, and neither was I, it never got a fish from what I could see. I tried several times to get a photo of the kingfisher just before it hit the water and was too slow each time. Eventually the kingfisher flew off to another pond, so I continued on my way as well, with the geese still honking nervously, even after I left. I hadn’t gone very far when they left the pond for good.

It was nice to see something at that pond for a change. I had seen a great blue heron flying through the complex earlier, I was hoping it had stopped at one of the ponds, but I never found it, and I looked.

I have noticed some coyote or fox scat and tracks near the back pond, I wonder if that’s the reason the birds have been avoiding it?

The goose in the long back pond is definitely on a nest, let’s hope that no one does anything stupid to cause her to abandon any eggs that she has laid.

The swan was gone, I was early on my walk today, and as I said yesterday, she seems to return in the afternoons when she does come back.

The mallards continue to entertain me, I see them all over, sleeping under pine trees, wandering up and down the streets, and even feeding out in the fields next to the complex.

The rest of the birds are still busy building nests, as you would expect this time of year.

That’s it for today, on to Tuesday.

Tuesday

Cloudy, cool, and very breezy today, the temperature was less than half of what it was a week ago. It was even back to a winter parka today, as much because of the wind as the cool temperatures. Between the cool weather, my Achilles tendon that I pulled sometime ago healing up, and losing some weight finally, there was a bounce to my step that I haven’t felt in a while! I have dropped close to twenty pounds since the first of the year, that sounds like a lot, but on me, it is barely noticeable.

I hate getting old, over two years of walking two miles a day during the week, plus the workout I get at work, and I am just beginning to shed some of the weight I put on as an over the road truck driver. It has taken that long for my metabolism to speed back up.

Now, time to get really serious about quitting my other bad habit, smoking! I have let myself slide on that too much the last few months, and I’m back up to a pack and a half a day. 😩

Enough of that, on to my walk. It was a horrible day for photography, no light, and everything was moving in the wind. I tried taking some photos of a chickadee early on, I couldn’t even get a focus lock because of the way the wind was bouncing it around. Of course it was the same for any flowers I would have tried to shoot, except for these rhododendrons.

Rhododendrons

I watched two red-tailed hawks hunting for a while, I would normally think that it was the pair that live around here, but I would have thought that the female would have been on the nest. There may be even more hawks around than I thought. I also saw one of the sharp shinned hawks later on, it looked like the male, but it was too far away to say for sure. It was looking over the mallards in the long back pond, but never made a dive at any of them.

The goose is still on her nest near the long back pond, the gander standing guard a little way away from her. I should look up how long it will be before we have goslings running around here.

The back pond was empty again, I did see four large flocks of cranes on their way north, I wish a few would stop. I have noticed that it looks like the geese and ducks sometimes sniff the air much like a dog does. I know that some species of birds, like vultures, have very keen senses of smell. It was thought that vultures find their food by sight, spotting dead carcasses while they circle high above. But, further research has shown that the vultures actually locate much of their food by smell.

Yesterday, I noted that I have been seeing canine scat and tracks near the back pond, could it be that the birds who do visit the pond can detect that either coyotes or foxes have been around by scent? The only geese that have visited that pond acted nervous the entire time they were there, and other than one pair of mallards, no waterfowl have stuck around the pond for any length of time at all. Hmmm.

I hate to keep harping on the back pond, but that used to be the best of the ponds for getting photos of waterfowl and wading birds, and now it is empty almost all the time. I have also noticed that a trail of some type is starting to show up very near the pond, I’ll have to cross the fence tomorrow to see if I can tell what is making the trail, or other signs that may offer me some clues as to what is going on there.

The speed at which the plants have been growing has slowed down a lot with the return of some cooler air. That’s a good thing, there was some worry that there would be a frost last night, and if there had been, the area fruit growers would have lost much of this years crop.

On to Wednesday.

Wednesday

I’m going to start with a news item this morning, the Michigan Court of  Appeals denied Golden Lotus’ request for leave to appeal, from the Otsego County Circuit Courts 2011 Order requiring them to fully remove their dam on the Pigeon River. Golden Lotus’ dam on the Pigeon River failed for the third time in June 2008, resulting in massive sediment releases which killed an estimated 450,000 trout.

This is a story that I watch very closely, since the Pigeon is my favorite trout stream, and the Pigeon River Country is my favorite place in Michigan. Just so you know, as a member of Trout Unlimited and the Pigeon River Country Association, I am supporting the removal of the dam in full. You can read some of my other posts on this story here, and here.

Just how good of news this recent court victory is remains to be seen, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning has vowed to fight a protracted court battle to let them not do what they agreed to do right after the last fish kill. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning will probably appeal this latest court ruling just to drag things out even longer.

That story, while good news, has put me into a bit of a funk. For the first time in a decade, I won’t be doing my annual May trout fishing week in the Pigeon River Country, I’m bummed! I’ve missed years before, too many of them, but I was hoping to keep my current string going until I croaked, or was no longer physically able to go. Back when I was younger, it was easy to say that there would be other years, but now that I am getting on in years, I don’t know how many other years there will be left for me. I won’t be able to see for myself how well the trout are doing in the Pigeon after the last fish kill by Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning either.

I have checked the weather forecast, and it was one of the most incomplete forecasts I have ever seen. That’s usually not a good thing, it often means the meteorologists have no idea what’s in store for us. Oh well, I can tell you that it is extremely windy outdoors again today, and bright blue skies, so it’s time for a walk!

The wind severely limited my photographic opportunities! At one point I was trying to shoot a male cardinal singing, and because of the wind blowing the branches around, I couldn’t keep the cardinal in the viewfinder. I did manage this one of a tufted titmouse though.

Tufted titmouse

The grackles have discovered the new swamp, they were back there in force this morning. With the wind and the trees starting to leaf out, it’s getting hard to tell what’s going on back there. The wind was so strong that it was drowning out many of the birds songs I normally hear.

It seemed a perfect day to check out the back pond further, so I went all the way around it. A kingfisher was there, but some one walking on the other side of the pond spooked it off before I could get a good photo.  The trails I mentioned before are definitely game trails, and not made by deer. The only tracks I could positively identify were those of a house cat, either a feral one, or one let out to wander. The ground was soft enough that if the trails were being made by deer, I would have seen the impressions in the ground.

I also found evidence of two bird kills that were made near the pond, but I couldn’t positively identify either pile of feathers, other than they were medium size birds. Of course I can’t say what made the kills either, it could have been one of the hawks, or a coyote, or a fox, or a cat, although the flight feathers I found would lead me to believe the bird was too big to have been killed by a cat, but I could be wrong. I almost wish I had a trail camera to set up along the trails to see what go on back there at night.

One way or another, four-footed critters are making the trails along the pond, they are too narrow to have been made by humans, and I saw no human footprints other than mine.

In the long back pond, Mother Goose is still on her nest, with Mr. Goose patiently standing guard. Less than a month, and there will be goslings to photograph! No swans today or yesterday, that’s not surprising, I guess.

I was deep in thought for much of my walk today, and there was so much crap blowing around, it was hard to stay focused on anything. There was always something in motion that I would catch out of the corner of my eye to turn my attention towards it, and distract me from what I had been looking at.

That’s it for Wednesday, on to Thursday.

Thursday

I am sitting here drinking my coffee, looking out the window, waiting for the predicted sunshine and blue skies to show up. I can’t help but notice how much the leaves on the trees have filled out this week, it won’t be long and I won’t be able to see anything but woods out of my north windows, and the parking lot and woods out of my south windows. The trees on the north side almost touch the building I live in, and even block off my view of the creek that flows there, not more than fifty feet from my window. In some respects, living on the third floor here is almost like living in the forest canopy. I can sit in my recliner, or out on the balcony, and watch what the wildlife does high up in the tree tops.

When it rains, I can watch hummingbirds and insects take shelter from the rain under the leaves of the maple trees, watch the squirrels and birds feeding, and if the trees weren’t so dense, get some great photos from my balcony of the larger birds flying past. I have often thought how cool it would be to have access to the roof, and set up a photographic observation post there to give me a wider view of the area. It isn’t unusual for me to look out of the south window and see ducks, geese, and hawks on an eye to eye basis, they use the street I live on as a flyway so that they don’t have to gain as much altitude to get above the trees.

My apartment is like the world’s largest, most comfortable nature blind, who would have thought? It was with much trepidation that I moved into an apartment complex in the first place, it was the first time I had lived anywhere but a house, either rented or purchased. The first spring that I lived here I began taking photos of the birds from my balcony, the list of species that I was able to photograph was quite amazing to me. Then, it was the white tail deer, and I even got a bad shot of a wood duck swimming in the creek. When I saw a coyote trying to catch one of the turkeys living here, right from my window, I knew this place was special. I was still driving over the road for a living at the time, so I didn’t have very much time to realize just how special.

After I switched jobs to drive locally, and have time to care for my elderly mother, I knew I needed to do something to shed the weight I had gained as a truck driver. That’s when I started my daily walks around the complex. With the aid of my GPS unit, I found that it was exactly two miles around. I didn’t bring my camera with me at first, my walks were supposed to be for exercise, and I even timed myself each day, trying to complete the walks faster all the time. That didn’t last very long, I was stunned at the variety of wildlife around here. I think that what prompted me to start carrying a camera was great blue herons feeding in the ponds here.

The ponds are rainwater run off ponds, not natural, but they fit in well with the area. The area around my apartment complex is mainly low and wet, with a few small natural ponds scattered around.

The water in the creek behind my apartment comes from two small ponds to the east of the complex, and a combination swamp and marsh to the northwest of the complex, the two small creeks from them join to form the creek behind me, which in turn, joins the main creek that flows through the complex. That main creek is the drain from the chain of lakes to the west of here. They in turn are man-made, or at least man enhanced lakes. The one thing lacking around here is higher ground. I have to go half a mile in any direction to find anything that resembles a hill. It would not surprise me to learn that this area was a lake thousands of years ago, or possibly an oxbow lake left when the Grand River changed course over the millenia.

The entire area is low and wet, there are several spots in the complex here that have standing water most of the time, and only dry out during summer droughts. In a way, I’m surprised that some one would build an apartment complex here, as it is so low and wet, but it seems to work.

Now, for my walk. I must have known when I started describing the place this morning that it would be a slow day when I went for my walk. The sun never came out, and it was on the chilly side. We didn’t get a frost last night, but it must have been close, as there were few flowers out today.

I also knew the day would come when there wasn’t much to say about that day’s walk, other than I spent some time watching all the usual critters doing their thing. The muskrats were feeding in the ponds and creeks, the squirrels were scampering around, the birds singing and nesting, a typical day. The only noteworthy items, a great blue heron flying low overhead, I was hoping it would stop at one of the ponds, it didn’t, so this becomes my bad action shot of the day.

Great blue heron in flight

The other thing is that I spent some more time around the back pond. Some of the trails are being made by woodchucks or groundhogs, which ever you prefer to call them, and some by cottontail rabbits, but there are other critters, some canine, that use them as well. It has been dry here, so the tracks in the few bare spots were so old that I couldn’t identify them.

That doesn’t mean it was a slow day, at each of the bridges that cross the main creek, I paused for a while to listen to the water gurgling as it flowed downstream, and the birds singing along the creek. If you were to stand there with your eyes closed, you would swear that you were in the woods someplace far away from any human development, rather than on a bridge in an apartment complex.

The other thing to report is that as soon as I finished the download of the few photos I took today, the sun came out as if some one had flipped a switch. It looks as nice out there as they had predicted it would be. 🙂

On to Friday, which may be another slow day as far as photography. The weather report is for rain and high winds, great for a walk, not so great for cameras. 😉

Friday

I woke up around my usual time this morning, to the sound of thunder rumbling in the distance. I looked at the clock, looked out the window, rolled over and went back to sleep for an hour or so, and because of that, I’m late getting started today. I made matters worse by spending too much time looking for the Outdoors section of the online version of the local newspaper, what a waste of time that was. But, it has allowed time for the thunder showers to move out of the area, and better late than never, so off I go!

The weather? Perfect, temperature in the thirties fahrenheit , a stiff, bone-chilling wind out of the east, blowing drizzle, rain, and occasional bits of precipitation that bounced when they landed. I know, I’m crazy. Nature never stops, some species even become more active in this kind of weather as they search for food to maintain their high metabolic rates.

It was a day for thinking as much as observing, thinking about the constraints of time and space. I was already thinking about time earlier, since I overslept, the coffeemaker had turned itself off before I finished all the coffee in it. I stuck the last cup in the microwave, hit the quick start button, and watched a pair of cardinals outside my window as the thirty seconds on the microwave timer counted down. It seemed as if I had just hit the start button when the microwave beeped to let me know another thirty seconds of my life had just ticked away. I thought at the time that if I had watched the timer count down, those same thirty seconds would have seemed like an eternity, not the blink of an eye as they had seemed while I was watching the birds.

I had just gotten started on my walk, and I was thinking to myself what a rotten day for photography with the weather the way it was. My camera was safely tucked inside my parka to protect it from the wind-driven rain, and then the thought hit me just how many times I see something really spectacular on days like today. If as on cue, a great blue heron rose up out of the creek I was nearing, to fly off to better hunting grounds.

That’s what turned my thoughts back to the constraints of time and space, in the case today, the space of the apartment complex I live in.

I love it here, and I love my daily walks, but the kind of weather we had today drives something deep inside me. It was the kind of day when I want to lace up my boots, and disappear for an entire day……or two. That’s quite impossible in an apartment complex just outside of Michigan’s second largest city when I have to be at work at a specified time.

How did I used to do it? There always seemed to be enough time satisfy those urges when I was younger, even if I did have to work back then. In those days, I would have stayed out in the woods until the last possible moment, then rushed home to change for work, and clock in right at starting time. But, I still would have wanted more.

Weather like today drives me to push past the areas I normally walk, to see what lies just beyond the line of trees, or the hill that blocks my view of my surroundings. In the winter, deep snow will wear my legs out to stifle that urge to wander. The heat of summer will turn me into a mass of melting jello that just wants to find a cool spot to sit and rest. But give me spring and fall with cool temperatures, and I want to roam forever!

Part of that is all in my head, there seems to be more going on in spring and fall because they are times of transition. I want to watch the transition take place. During the winter and summer, there is almost as much activity in the outdoors, but it becomes more of the same old same old very quickly after those seasons set in.

There’s something else about weather like it was today, watching what wildlife has to endure. As I approached the long back pond, I checked to see if Mother Goose was still on her nest, she was. Just a short way away was the gander, patiently standing guard over her and her precious eggs. Each of them knowing in their instinct driven brains that if they thought of their own comfort and found shelter from the weather, that the next generation of geese would perish.

How we humans whine about any perceived discomfort! I’m guilty of it, and I try not to be. If there is any species well suited for the weather we had today, it is the goose. Their down is such a good insulator that we humans harvest it to line our winter outerwear. Their feathers are waterproof, so the rain falling on them runs right off. But still, it can’t be pleasant to sit there in the wind-driven rain for endless hours. I’ll think about those geese when the urge to whine about the weather, or anything else for that matter, tries to take hold.

One more thing about “unpleasant” weather, I got back to my apartment and made a cup of hot chocolate. Nothing special about that, most of the time. But after a day like today, wrapping my cold fingers around the hot cup to warm them, that cup of hot chocolate was pure delight going down! That always seems to be the case on a day like today, the simple things in life take on a special quality.

As far as make actual walk, not a lot to report. The birds were taking a break from their mating and nesting to feed, not surprising as cold as it was. The insects were all hidden away in places that shelter them from the weather. The muskrats are as waterproof as a goose, so they were out feeding, as were the squirrels, that did most of their feeding under a limb or branch that sheltered them from the rain. I took one photo, I haven’t downloaded it from my camera yet to see if it is worth posting, it is of a female mallard sitting out in the middle of the lawn for who knows what reason.

I wrote earlier in the week that the weather forecast that day was one of the most incomplete I have ever seen. I noted that when I have seen forecasts like that it usually means the forecaster don’t have a clue as to what’s in store for us. That is sort of continuing, the forecasts for this weekend are for weather. It may be sunny, with occasional rain maybe, maybe frost, maybe warm, maybe we’ll all have to wait and see what the weather is really going to be like. 🙂

On to Saturday.

Saturday

Another cloudy morning waiting for the sun to make an appearance. It seems that most of this week I’ve had my camera set at ISO 400 because of the clouds, and I want to be able to set it at 200 and get some great photos!

I am debating whether or not I should go off on one of my rants about the mainstream media, I have a draft post started explaining why I would love to see  Howard Meyerson, the outdoor editor of what used to be the Grand Rapids Press fired and replaced. He ticks me off to no end, as do most of the mainstream media.

What a bunch of simpletons! Democrats good, Republicans evil. It isn’t that simple, especially when it comes to the environment. Just for the record, I consider myself a libertarian, and find myself aligned with Republicans more than the Democrats, and I consider myself to be a supporter of the environment and nature.

Here’s a snippet from Howard’s latest column….

“Of course, Gov. Rick Snyder is a strong, pro-business leader. (Rodney) Stokes is the first DNR director to be appointed by a sitting governor. DNR directors used to be appointed by the Natural Resources Commission, themselves gubernatorial appointees on staggered terms. The system somewhat de-politicized natural resource decisions.”

At face value, what Howard wrote is true, Rodney Stokes is the first DNR director to be appointed by a sitting governor, however, what Howard left out is germane to that statement. It was Governor Snyder’s predecessor, her royal highness, Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, who changed the way DNR directors are appointed, not Governor Snyder. Just as she tried, unsuccessfully, to take over the Mackinac Bridge Authority and every other autonomous state regulatory agency.

Under Jennifer Granholm’s admistration, funding for the DNR was cut to the bone, and beyond. All general fund money going to the State Parks and State Forest Parks was cut, the DNR closed some State Forest Campgrounds, and more were scheduled to close, including my beloved Round Lake State Forest Campground.

Funding for important projects cleaning up past pollution was also cut, such as the clean up of the old Zepher oil refinery near Muskegon, Michigan. That project was scheduled to be shut down, leaving oil and other harmful chemicals to leach into the Muskegon River, Muskegon Lake, and eventually, Lake Michigan.

Last January, Governor Snyder, a Republican, took office, and both houses of Michigan’s legislature were also controlled by the Republican Party. Suddenly, many of the clean up projects were fully funded again, I remember writing about them as I read the stories in the press. In the case of the old Zepher oil refinery, not only was funding restored, it was increased to levels the manager of that project had requested in order to expand the clean up. The state came up with the money needed to leverage Federal funding of the dredging of contaminated soil from Muskegon Lake.

Under Rodney Stoke’s direction, the Michigan DNR has been restructured, the Recreational Passport system expanded to include State Forest Campgrounds, and for the first time in I don’t remember how long, Michigan has opened a new State Park, the Rockport State Park.

So, who has been better for the environment here in Michigan?

I’ll be the first to admit, there are some loonies in the Republican Party, like the one who wants to put a cap on the amount of land the state can own. But from what I can tell, that bill is dying the proper death in committee, and it won’t make it to the Governor’s desk. Since Governor Snyder used to be on the board of the Michigan Nature Conservancy, I would hope that he would veto that bill if it were to make it to his desk.

But getting back to the media, they gave former Governor Granholm a pass when she was cutting anything and everything having to do with the environment, Democrats good, no matter what they actually do in office. They give no credit to the Snyder administration for restoring funding to clean up polluted sites, Republicans evil, no matter what they actually do in office. And then you have jerks like Howard Meyerson taking a shot at Governor Snyder for following the law as set by his predecessor. And, to imply that Rodney Stoke’s appointment as director of the DNR was in any way political does a huge injustice to a man who is probably the least political of any of the recent directors the DNR has had!

Howard should be taken out and horse whipped, for perhaps he forgets this snippet from a previous Grand Rapids Press story…”Gov. Jennifer Granholm on Wednesday appointed Rebecca Humphries as director of the newly established Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment.”  That’s right, the DNR had been combined with the DEQ at that time, making Howard’s latest statement true, but only on a technicality.

I would hope that eventually, the appointment of DNR directors would be returned to the Natural Resources Commission, the way it should be, and I would hope that Howard retires soon before he makes a bigger fool of himself than he has already.

Looks like I lost the debate as to whether I should go off on a rant or not. 😉 I’m still waiting for some sun, but I guess I’ll venture out and hope that it shows up soon.

No sun on my first lap, I did stop off and watch a chickadee working on a nesting cavity.

Chickadee working on a nesting cavity

It was cool, cool enough that I could see my breath and see mist rising off from the ponds, not like yesterday, but close. I forgot that yesterday, all the ponds were shrouded in mist because the water is so much warmer than the air was. Today was much the same, and I knew I was going to do two laps, so I moved right along for the first one. Then, I took a short break, waiting for the sun, and eating lunch. About the time I finished eating, the clouds began to break up, and by the time I finished lap two, it was a sunny but cool day.

One of the muskrats was gathering more grass for its den.

Muskrat

Muskrat

Finally, some fairly good photos of that! The muskrats have created some bare spots in the lawn along the creek from all the grass they have been collecting.

Activity in all the ponds was about the same as it has been, one pair of geese, a few stray mallards, and that’s about it.

Since it had turned into a nice day, I wandered around in the field near the back pond which has been so lifeless this spring. The entire field is crisscrossed with small game trails. Some one told me today that people are seeing a fox in that area very often, and some of the trails could indeed be fox runs.

I also found the remains of another bird, this one appeared to have been a crow. Where I found the remains is very near a tree the red-tailed hawks use as a perch as they scout the field for prey.

All I can say for sure right now is that there is a predator large and wily enough to take down good-sized birds hunting around that back pond. That still leaves the question as to how the birds that normally would be using that pond know that the pond isn’t safe for them anymore? Is it by scent?

I wouldn’t think the hawks would explain it, even if it was a hawk that killed the crow. The hawks hunt over all the ponds, not just the back one. It was at the front pond that I witnessed the male sharpie make a pass at a pair of mallards way back a few months ago. The mallards are still there, and they have been joined by a pair of geese.

On the other hand, it would be hard to believe that a fox or a coyote wouldn’t venture a few hundred feet north to hunt the other ponds, except those other ponds have much more human activity around them. And, that reminds me of something else. Mother Goose is still on her nest on the long back pond, she built her nest right on the edge of where the  lawn service stops mowing, right at the corner of the building almost. Last year, all the geese nested on the back side of the pond in the weeds and willows, away from the human activity. Did Mother Goose build her nest on the human side of the pond this year to avoid any predators hunting the backside of the pond? Hmmm, I think I need to check the back of the long back pond for signs of predator activity there.

I may be on to something here. It does require further investigation, but that will be next week. I did get a few interesting photos today that are going to go into another post, as they aren’t specific to today, or this week.

I think (and hope) that these posts will start getting shorter as things settle into a spring/early summer routine, leaving me more time for other posts.

That’s it for this week. As always, thanks for stopping by!

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Spring scenes

I have a bunch of photos that I want to post, all having to do with spring. This is going to be one of my infamous photo dumps, with little explanation to go with the photos unless needed. So, here goes!

Sky

American goldfinch

Maple flowers? I have forgotten which tree this is.

Skunk cabbage

Alder catkins

Sky

Eastern chipmunk

Leaf buds

Leaf buds in the fog

Spider web in the fog

Poplar catkins blowing in the wind

Maple seeds (already!)

Leaf buds

Forsythia

Wildflower

Flowering tree

Fox squirrel romping in the grass

Flowering tree

Flowering tree

Maple flower buds

Maple flower bud

Flowering tree

Maple flowers

Rhododendron

Fat robin

Fat robin and challenger

Robin fight

Flowering tree

Flowering tree

Flowering tree

Violets

Violets

Dutchman's breeches

Spring beauty

It’s so beautiful in the spring! My favorite time of the year. That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


The Weekly Photo Challenge: Through

Well, what am I going to come up with for this one?

A river flowing through the woods?

Heaven

Too easy, how about looking through the trees?

Through the trees

I might be on to something there, let’s try that again.

Looking through the trees

Good, but not quite what I had in mind.

Birds soaring through the air?

Sandhill cranes in flight

Oooo, added bonus, you can see sunlight shining through the feathers of their wings!

That may work, but, how about looking through the ice to see the plants in the water below?

Ice

Not bad, but not great either. That does give me another idea though, a bubble, you can see through a bubble. But, where am I going to find a bubble?

Soap bubble

That was convenient, I wonder what the sky looks like when viewed through a bubble?

Bubble against the sky

Imagine that, it looks blue. Kind of cool though.

Before I succeed in making you all believe that I am completely off my rocker, I had better end it there and call it good. That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Practice, Practice, Practice, The Mighty Mallards

This post may seem to be somewhat repetitious if you have been following my blog for a while, but I wanted to pull together several recurring themes and expound on them a little.

Back in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when I was just getting started taking photographs, one of the things the experts used to repeat often was that much of the difference between a pro and an amateur was that the pros took many times the number of photos than the typical amateur did. Back then, photography was a lot more expensive, since you had to buy film, then pay for developing it, even if you did your own developing, there was still a cost to it.

With the advent of digital photography, the per picture cost has gone away, once you have the equipment, the photos cost you nothing. There’s no excuse for not practicing more often any longer. However, just shooting lots of photos won’t help you to improve your skills. You have to look at each photo and figure out why what you see on your computer screen isn’t what you thought you were going to get when you pressed the shutter release. You have to learn from your mistakes, not continue to repeat them over and over again for the sake of taking lots of photos.

There are many good books and websites that can help you to help you to improve your photographic skills, if you are willing to take a critical eye to your photos and are willing to admit their shortcomings. I’m not going to try to take that on here, the gist of this post is practice.

We’ve all heard the saying practice makes perfect, and that’s as true for wildlife photography as anything else. You have to practice in order to get better, but what do you find to photograph as practice? We would all love to shoot great photos of rare, magnificent wildlife, but that’s not going to happen often enough for the purposes of practicing. Luckily, there are a few species around here that are both beautiful and common, like mallards, robins, and herring gulls, to name a few. You may have different common species where you live, but I’ll bet that you can find some common species that make good practice subjects.

The knock against those species is that they are common, so what? If you’re taking practice photos, that doesn’t matter, delete the majority of them, after you have analyzed them for quality, then go out and shoot a bunch more.

Why are mallards so common? Because they are tougher and smarter than most other waterfowl. They learned to co-exist with humans, despite the deadly onslaughts that we released on them. Instead of retreating to ever smaller bits of pristine wilderness, mallards moved right in with us, or I should say, they simply refused to move out of our way. As the Europeans marched their way across the North American continent, the mallards dug in and said “We were here first, and we’re not going anywhere!” Despite being shot and poisoned, mallards held on, hoping that one day we would come to our senses. Now, we hold that against them.

Mallards are tough, tenacious, and adaptable, fine qualities if you ask me. It probably doesn’t hurt that they are prolific breeders as well. 😉 Except for the breeding part, I think we could all do well to be more like the mallards.

We humans seem to only place value on things that are rare, whether it is wildlife or other things. Gold is only valuable because it is rare, the same with diamonds. Neither has any real intrinsic value, nor widespread use in civilization. Gold is a slightly better conductor of electricity than copper is, but not enough to make any large difference, despite what some manufacturers of stereo equipment say. Diamonds have some use as an industrial abrasive, hardly a use that would cause them to command such a high price. The only reasons we place so much value on gold and diamonds is they are shiny or sparkly, and rare.

That works out well for most things, not so well for wildlife. We look down our noses at some very beautiful species, simply because they are common. And what happens when a species that used to be rare makes a comeback and becomes common again? I’m afraid of the answer to that one.

From what I have seen so far, the answer to that frightens me. As some species that used to be relatively rare are becoming more numerous, if they inconvenience humans in the slightest of ways, there are people calling for some one to do something to reduce the numbers of those species. Take the Canadian goose. I have written about them often, how rare they once were here in Michigan, and how well they are doing now. People today don’t know how numerous they used to be, they only remember the way it was when the geese were pushed near the brink of extinction. They were here first, they have every right to survive and co-exist with us. Too many people seem to think that nature should conform to our whims, and that we should never have to make any kind of allowance to accommodate wildlife. That’s the kind of thinking that lead us to push so many species to extinction, and even more to close to the edge in the first place.

Anyway, I decided last summer that I would use how common mallards are to help me become a better photographer, so I have set out to take the perfect mallard photo.

Just when I think that I have done about as well as I can…

Male mallard

…I get even better photos, that blow away my previous bests.

Male mallard

Then get one that’s even better.

Male mallard

By practicing on the mallards, I think that my photography has improved greatly over the last year, what I learn while photographing the mallards translates well as far as lighting and exposure. It’s trickier to get a great photo of a mallard than it would seem.

Here’s the description of a male mallard from the All About Birds website…..Head iridescent dark green. Narrow white neck ring. Breast chestnut-brown. Back and wings brownish gray. Underparts light grayish. Rump and under tail black, with white area just in front along flanks. Tail white on outside with black middle feathers. Central tail feathers curled up toward back. Bill yellow to greenish, with black nail at tip. Eyes dark. Feet red to orange…. And, may I add that much of the grayish areas of a mallard are subtly barred feathers that are very hard to capture well in a photograph.

Getting all those colors to render correctly, and to be exposed correctly, takes some doing. You have to get the light just right. Fortunately, mallards normally allow you to get approach them closer than most other wildlife will, which helps.

And in truth, I have set as a goal getting the perfect photo of all the common species that inhabit the area I live, which is why I continue to photograph chickadees, even though I have dozens of shots of them saved on my computer already.

Black capped chickadee

That brings up another point, to me, almost any shot of a chickadee is an action shot in a way. They seldom sit still for any length of time at all. Even when they are perched, they are still moving, looking around, and just plain fidgeting.

And since I want to be able to capture action shots like this…

Mute swan landing

Then mallards make great subjects to practice on, since they are normally up to something.

Male mallard

I often include what I call my bad action shot of the day in some of my posts, they’re not always that bad, but a lot of them are.

Mallards in flight

Mallard chase

Mallard chase

Mallard landing

Mallard chase

Mallard chase

Mallard chase

Mallard chase

Mallard chase

Mallard

When it comes to action shots, practice is critical. Being able to stay focused on the action while zooming in or out as needed, and getting your timing right all require a lot of practice.

Mallards in flight

Not only do mallards provide plenty of action to practice on, they are darned entertaining to boot, which makes photographing them that much more fun. They are about the perfect size bird to practice on, large enough to show up well in photos, but quick enough to help me work on my timing for smaller birds, like this golden-crowned kinglet.

Golden-crowned kinglet in flight

Now that was a tough one to catch! Golden-crowned kinglets make chickadees seem large and slow in comparison!

Here’s a coupe more of the kinglet while it was perched.

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Back to mallards, you never know what they are going to do, or why, like this female trying to play wood duck.

Female mallard perched on a stump

What she was doing on a four foot stump is beyond me. That’s another point in the mallard’s favor, they are unpredictable, and each one seems to have its own distinct personality.

Female mallard

So if you want to improve your skills at wildlife photography, pick a common species in your area to practice on, keep shooting, and continue to strive for the best possible photo of that species that you can get. You don’t have to choose mallards as I have, any common species will work, but you could do a whole lot worse than the mighty mallards.

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


My Week…Having a heat wave!

The My Week series of posts is a daily running journal that I do on the walks that I take daily around the apartment complex where I live. I’m located just south of the second largest city in Michigan, Grand Rapids, in the southwest part of the state. It was inspired in part by the phenology project done by Rebecca on her blog, Rebecca in the Woods.

Here you will find my thoughts about the wildlife that share this area, and maybe my thoughts on a news item I have read that pertains to nature or the environment.

This post covers the week from March 18 to March 24, 2012

Sunday

I went to a local park today. That probably wasn’t a good idea. I woke up grumpy to begin with, the people downstairs had a party Saturday night that lasted to the wee hours of Sunday Morning. Then, when I got to the park, it was jammed with people out there taking advantage of the warm weather. It’s too bad they are using the park for a dump, it was quite disgusting. Palmer Park is always trashed, but it seemed twice as bad yesterday. I was hoping to see some wildflowers, and there were a few, but 99% of the time I caught a flash of color, it turned out to be trash, not flowers or wildlife. The few photos worth posting will end up in another post I’m working on. That walk doesn’t really fit here anyway, so enough said about it already, on to Monday.

Monday

The warm, I should say hot temperatures continue, with a predicted high near 80 degrees today. Last day of the official winter, and I was wiping the sweat out of my eyes towards the end. Two more days, and the temperature is forecast to return to nearer normal for this time of year. Whew!

One thing about yesterday in the park that I should have included, no wading birds there, either. That’s a little strange, but it is still very early spring.

The wildlife is adapting to these warm temperatures much better than I am. They have all fallen into a summer-like routine. The red-tailed hawks are circling high…

Red-tailed hawk in flight

The mallards are now hamming it up for the camera..

Female mallard

The ponds have almost emptied of waterfowl, I see the mallards strolling around all over the place, I assume looking for nesting spots if they haven’t already found one.

There has been one swan in the long back pond on and off, that has me worried. Mated pairs don’t spend time apart, or at least I didn’t think they did.

The geese are getting braver, several times today I saw the gander go swimming toward the swan as if to chase the swan away, but it didn’t work. I found out today that geese can swim backwards, quite well when a swan turns on them.

Mute swan and geese

Add another species to the list of what I have seen around here at the Byron Lakes apartments and wildlife refuge, steelhead trout.

Two steelhead n a small creek

You know, it’s really hard to photograph fish in the water. Steelhead are a type of rainbow trout that are anadromous, they return to their original hatching ground to spawn after several years living in the ocean or Great Lakes. Similar to Atlantic salmon, but unlike their Pacific salmonid kin, steelhead are iteroparous (able to spawn several times) and make several spawning trips. The steelhead smolts (immature or young fish) remain in the river for about a year before heading to sea or the Great Lakes, whereas salmon typically return to the seas as smolts.

So what are steelhead doing in an unnamed feeder creek to Buck Creek? Wasting their time and spawning efforts. That’s one of the problems with hatchery fish, because of the way they are raised and planted. They don’t spend enough time in a river to become fully “implanted” to the waters they should return to. They follow the inbred urge to return upstream, and often pick the wrong streams to return to.

I seriously doubt that if those two do spawn that the eggs will ever hatch, the water in the creek here will be too warm, and even if the eggs did hatch, the young fry would die from heat and lack of oxygen in the creek. Still, it was pretty cool to see steelhead just a few hundred feet from my apartment. The thought of grabbing a fishing rod crossed my mind, but those two have been in the river some time already, they are dark and beat up, not silver like fresh run fish would be. Besides, hooking an eight pond steelhead in that little creek would be folly anyway.

That’s it for today, on to Tuesday.

Tuesday

Great, I got home from work last night and see that the weather forecast has been changed, they are now predicting highs near 90 degrees, double yuck! I am going to take advantage of it being cool this morning and get out there early, be back in a few.

I started out headed towards the new swamp, the frogs are singing almost as much as the birds are. A great way to start the day! A lot of the mallards are nesting in the swamp from the way it appears, I can see several islands of higher ground in there, and plenty of males that are on lookout duty.

The maple trees that just began to flower less than two weeks ago are already producing seeds.

Maple seeds

And, there was finally a visitor to the back pond, a lone male bufflehead.

Bufflehead duck

Hey, it’s a start, the first time I’ve seen anything other than a mallard there in several months, not even a goose.

Before I forget, thinking about the steelhead from yesterday, I forgot to add a species I saw a couple of days ago, a woodcock, or timberdoodle as some people call them because of the crazy way they fly, especially when the males are doing their mid-air courting flights called preenting. I flushed it near one of the creeks, I’m fairly certain it was migrating northward. They are odd-looking birds with long bills with a flexible tip that they use to probe the ground in search of earthworms. They are described as shore birds who inhabit the forest.

Leaves are busting out all over, it’s nice seeing some green again!

New green leaves with old red berries

The birds refuse to sit still, they are all too busy mating and nesting. I have given up trying to get a photo of the goldfinches until they turn bright yellow. I have been spending too much time trying to photograph them while they are singing from the treetops. Those shots never turn out well.

The swans are gone again today, seeing just one of them on and off has me worried, did something happen to the other one?

Apparently, the parking lots and buildings here create some good thermals for the red-tailed hawks to use to gain altitude.

Red-tailed hawk soaring overhead

Two days in a row I have watched one of them swoop down below treetop level off in the distance, then, the next thing I know, they are right over one of the parking lots spiralling back up to the higher altitudes they seem to hunt from in warmer weather. I tried to get a shot of the pair of them together this morning, but they were between the sun and myself. One of these days, or maybe not. The female may soon be on her nest.

I swear, you can almost watch the leaves growing. As I type this, I can look out of the window, and it looks greener now than this morning when I started my walk. Only one more day of the heat, hopefully. On to Wednesday.

Wednesday

The heat wave continues. Yesterday we set an all time high temperature record for the month of March, we’ll break that record today, along with the daily high temperature record for the date.

I’ve said that the critters seem to have settled right into their normal summer routines, that’s true of the resident species who remain here year round, but I am beginning to notice that the species that migrate are acting a bit confused, can’t say as I can blame them. I can’t put my finger on anything specific, at least not yet, but the migratory birds aren’t acting the way I would expect.

Back from my walk, this place is amazing. I stepped out the door and saw turkeys to my left and as I was getting ready to photograph them….

Turkey

……I was nearly hit by a low flying mallard. Of course I shot a picture, but the mallards were flying directly away from me, way too fast for the auto-focus to keep up with them. What the heck, I’ll post it anyway.

Low flying mallards

I turned around and what did I see? One of the red-tailed hawks keeping an eye on the mallards.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

The hawk turned around and headed for the fields to the west, I zoomed out and shot this one of it disappearing behind the next apartment building down from me.

Hawk flying over an apartment

This was all less than ten steps from my doorstep.

The new arrival for today, a tree swallow, but I missed getting a photo of it, darn. That’s OK, they’ll be around here all summer, along with barn swallows that love nesting under the carports here. They’ll be here shortly, the tree swallows are always a week or so ahead of the barn swallows.

The big news, leaves!

Leaves on Tuesday

Leaves on Wednesday

Leaves and flowers, that is. The decorative azaleas have begun to bloom!

Azaleas blooming in March in Michigan

The rhododendrons are close behind, they’ll be flowering in a day or two, if it takes that long with the heat.

We could use some rain, we haven’t had any since the first few days of this heat wave, and things are getting dry around here. I bet that if we did get rain, the plants would be growing even faster than they are now, if that is even possible.

The front, center, and long back ponds all have one pair of geese and a few stray male mallards hanging around, the bufflehead in the back pond was gone today, I expected that. What I didn’t expect is that not even one pair of geese are nesting by that pond, that’s a first.

The swan was gone, the one that has been around on and off this week is the female, which probably explains why the geese have been crowding her, trying to chase her off. She won’t get really aggressive unless she nests here, then, look out. The male swan that’s her mate is the one that had the injured leg, I sure hope he’s OK.

I broke down and turned on the air conditioning in my apartment. It was above 80 degrees even though I had shut my windows when I got up this morning. This heat is getting to me, sapping all my energy. I would have held off longer before turning the air on, but the heat wave is going to come to an end tomorrow, I hope. That’s it for Wednesday, on to Thursday.

Thursday

Another all time record high for the month of March yesterday. The official high was 87 in Grand Rapids, four degrees warmer than an average day in July!  We have now set seven record high temperatures in the last 8 days. They had been predicting that today would be cooler, but now they are saying it will be almost as hot as it has been all week, and that it will begin to cool off tomorrow. I sure hope so. I don’t do heat well at any time, when the temperature goes from 30 to 85 degrees in two or three days, it about kills me.

It was oppressive out there today, way too hot for me. I walked to the end of my dead-end street and turned the corner to begin the main part of the apartment complex, and I seriously considered going back inside where it was cool. I only went a short way farther and a somewhat cool breeze came up, or I probably would have cut my walk short for one of the few times since I have started them. Not only was it hot today, the humidity is increasing from what it has been. It has been hot, even by summer standards this week, but the humidity has been low. I sure hope it rains tonight as predicted, and it begins to cool down.

I saw one swan, in flight. I assume it came from the chain of lakes to the west, where it was headed, I have no idea. There are so many ponds and small lakes around the area, that’s one of the reasons there is so much wildlife around here.

That did help me put my finger on something though. I said earlier that there seemed to be something different about the behavior of the migratory birds, and it dawned on me today. I’m not seeing the typical small flocks come through, it’s one or two at a time. I saw one bufflehead, one turkey vulture, one tree swallow, one pair of ring-necked ducks, and so on. I wonder if the warmer than normal winter combined with the extreme warm up when spring did arrive has disrupted the migration patterns of the birds. Hmmm.

I did see a brown creeper, I think that’s the first time I have seen one around here. I also watched a flock of cedar waxwings feeding on the few berries remaining on the trees.

Cedar waxwing in flight

That one doubles as my bad action shot of the day, I’m not posting the blurry shot of the brown creeper I got. 😉

Cedar waxwing

That was all I was able to type yesterday, I was so wiped out by the heat that I had to go and relax in my recliner for a while before going to work. One thing I do remember from yesterday was standing near some of the pines and being able to smell them, but it was the hot, dry scent of mid-summer, not the fresh scent of spring pines.

The heat wave has broken, on to Friday.

Friday

Relief! That word does not do justice to how much better I am feeling today. It is over 30 degrees cooler outside right now than it was yesterday afternoon when I was trying to finish yesterday’s notes, and there is a wonderful light spring rain going on. I overslept this morning, partially because my body was trying to recover from the heat, and partially because I was rudely awakened by the sounds of a leaf blower early, well before I was ready to get out of bed. I hate leaf blowers! They are about the dumbest thing man has ever invented, a true waste of gas.

A couple of news items.

Back in August of last year, I did a kayak excursion on the Grand River near Ada, Michigan that I posted about. My plan that day was to put my kayak in at  Roselle Township Park, which is an Ada Township park. At the time, I wondered why they didn’t allow people to drive back to the canoe/kayak landing in the park, and this morning, I received a very nice comment from Mr. Jim Ferro, the Ada Township Planning Director explaining why. I would like to thank Mr. Ferro for taking the time to explain that, it does make sense since the path to the river is in the river’s floodplain. My little blog does get around!

Also in the news, the clean up at the old Eagle Leather Tannery in Whitehall, Michigan has about been completed. The tannery dumped a long list of nasty things into White Lake, which empties into Lake Michigan. This has been in the news ever since I was a kid. I’m not going to list all the toxins that had to be removed, I’ll just say that this is great news for any one who loves White Lake, or the Great Lakes. Also, a big thumbs up to Genesco, the company that now owns the tannery site. The tannery was founded and began polluting White Lake way back in 1865, long before Genesco existed as a company. They spent millions on the clean-up, which really didn’t begin until they bought it if I remember correctly.

When pollution is discovered and/or a company attempts to shirk their responsibility to clean it up, that makes headlines. I think that it should also be headline news when a company purchases a property known to be contaminated, then does the right thing and cleans it up. The way the news media reports things gives every one a distorted view.

On to my walk. It was heavenly! Cool and refreshing, I wanted to just stand there and drink in how good it felt. Because of the rain, which had let up most of the time I was out there, I didn’t get many photos, that’s OK, I have a huge backlog that I will post this weekend.

The bufflehead that stopped in the back pond did start something, there was a lone goose later this week, and today, the pair of mean swans were visiting that pond. The mean swans are the ones that were really harassing the swans in an earlier post. It’s nice to see some signs of life there for a change.

The nicer swans from the long back pond were both gone. Once again, I wonder if they will return?

The mallards have spread out everywhere, and I do mean everywhere! Most of the time they are near water, but I also see them waddling through the woods, or even down the streets here. I came across this male sleeping under the edge of one of the carports here to stay dry, and couldn’t resist sneaking up on him and using the flash for this one.

Male mallard with red-eye

About the only migratory birds that arrived as a flock have been the cedar waxwings, but they tend to stay in flocks most of the time anyway. I was watching the flock today, hoping for some good photos, but they all stuck to the tops of the trees except for these two eating berries that had fallen to the ground.

Cedar waxwings

After a week of being worn to a frazzle, today, I could feel my energy returning with every step of my walk. The weather tomorrow is supposed to be much the same, even cooler in fact, I will be loving that and the rain! On to Saturday.

Saturday

I’ve got some serious blogging I want to get done this weekend, I’m so far behind that I don’t think a weekend is long enough to get caught up. You may have noticed that the daily entries in this weeks edition are shorter than they have been. I didn’t mean for this series to be a step by step recount of my daily walks, but that’s the way I did the first few posts. It was a transitional time of the year with so much going on. Now that things are settling into a daily routine, I hope to just post the highlights from each day, and get back to doing other posts as well.

Back from my walk, I did two laps today. It was cloudy and cool for most of the first lap, the sun almost came out for a while at the beginning of the second lap, and it got too warm for the rain jacket I was wearing.

Everything is greening up nicely, after six months of brown and grey, it’s good to see some color again! And not just the color green, but the colors of the wildflowers beginning to bloom!

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

I watched the robins more closely than I normally do today, looking to see if any of them took advantage of the many worms on the sidewalks and streets. I did see two robins pick up and eat worms from the pavement, but even they left most of the worms they passed. One robin was feasting on the ants that were eating one of the dead worms from yesterday. An easy meal, one way or another I suppose.

Two people stopped me to chat for a while, and it struck me that most of the time when some one asks what I find to take so many photos of, it is younger people. In talking with them, they have learned what they know about nature in school, which is good, but they haven’t seen much of it in real life. The young woman who was talking with me has never seen a wild bald eagle. That’s a shame.

The birds around here are very busy nesting and mating. I thought it was crazy around here before, but it was even busier today than it has been. I wonder how many pounds of grasses, twigs, and mud are being moved around here to build nests? I think that the number would astound even me. The numbers of some species of birds here astound me!

I don’t know how many goldfinches there are here, but it has to be close to 100, maybe more. Either that, or the same ones follow me around while I’m walking, they are everywhere. 😉 Since the trees are beginning to leaf out, some of the male goldfinches are now singing from the tops of them. Rather than seeing 4 or 5 all singing from the same evergreen, they are spreading out more, and just starting to turn color.

Something else I figured out today, I had noted that I would see cardinals feeding on the mud flats of the creeks after the flats had been flooded and the water receded, and I wondered why that was. It was a slap myself in the forehead for being so dumb moment, the reason the cardinals were feeding on the flats is because the flood waters had washed away and/or melted the snow that had been covering the flats. Of course they are not feeding on the flats very often now, there’s no snow covering their other feeding areas.

I saw the first dragonfly of the year, March 24th, and there are dragonflies buzzing around already.

Still no wading birds, but I’m not seeing many during my runs for work either, once in a while a heron or a crane but that’s it. It must still be too early for them.

The turkeys are still displaying, and will be for some time yet. I never seem to find them on nice days when I could get really good photos, they stay back in the woods then. On cloudy days like today, they come right out in the open, and I end up with shots like this.

Two headed turkey monster

That’s a problem whenever the toms display, they crowd each other so much that it is hard to get a clear photo of one of them. I see that a few of them are showing the wear and tear of mating season as well, some are missing quite a few tail feathers. I had a shot of one, but didn’t prep it for posting, it wasn’t that good anyway.

I think that about wraps this week up. No, one more thing. With the heat wave, everything is going quicker than normal. Some of the trees that just began to flower a few days ago are already dropping the flowers today. I was somewhat lax in shooting many photos of the flowers, I thought that I would have more time to get some better ones. I’d better be ready for round two of the flowering trees, which will be starting any day now.

Well, that is it for the week, I am so glad that the heat wave is over for the foreseeable future. This next week is predicted to be warmer than average, but by just a few degrees, not record setting heat day after day the way it was this week.

As always, thanks for stopping by!


The Weekly Photo Challenge: Unusual

Given my warped sense of humor, here are a few things I find unusual.

I find it unusual that some one would just park a helicopter in the middle of the sky and leave it.

Helicopter parked in the sky

I find it unusual that the pilots of two jets would fly close enough together to be able to wave to one another.

Jets flying close together

I find it unusual that some one would feel the need to wear waders while cooking burgers on the grill.

Why?

I find it unusual that a grown woman would try to make shadow puppets….

Shadow puppet

…for flowers…

Real puppets

…when there are real puppets available.

I find it unusual that I had enough sense to shoot a shot like this when the opportunity presented itself.

Song sparrow imprisoned

I find it unusual that I didn’t let it go at just that one shot, but continued to work with the situation.

Song sparrow imprisoned

Of course, it’s unusual that I found a subject that sat still long enough for me to make the adjustments to the camera settings I needed to make as well.

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


My Week…Instant Summer

The My Week series of posts is a daily running journal that I do on the walks that I take daily around the apartment complex where I live. I’m located just south of the second largest city in Michigan, Grand Rapids, in the southwest part of the state. It was inspired in part by the phenology project done by Rebecca on her blog, Rebecca in the Woods.

Here you will find my thoughts about the wildlife that share this area, and maybe my thoughts on a news item I have read that pertains to nature or the environment.

This post covers the week from March 11 to March 17, 2012

Sunday

Dawn patrol! I got my lazy butt out of bed right around 6 AM, drank my coffee, got a bite to eat, and just as first light was beginning to show, I stepped out of the door into a cool, but very pleasant morning, with the first rays of the sun aided by the last light from a full moon.

Morning moon

Just as I had hoped, the trees were alive with the sounds of songbirds trying to attract a mate. Missing was the wind that has been blowing constantly for almost two weeks, and sounds of human activity.

I have always loved dawn, even back when I was a kid. I would always be the first one up when we were camping as a family, and I would go wandering around the campground, or take the rowboat out on the lake if there was one there. I learned that nature is never more active than at dawn. The nocturnal wildlife is getting ready to go to sleep, and the diurnal wildlife is just waking up for the day. It was one such early morning that I saw otters for the first time, so it has always been special to me.

I am going to go light on the critter pictures from today, that’s about all I have been posting of late, and I don’t want to become known as just a wildlife blog. So, here’s what I was treated to as I started out.

Sunrise

I sure have missed sunrises since I’ve been working second shift, the warm glow it casts on everything.

Sunrise

Including the sharp shinned hawk!

Sharp shinned hawk in flight at sunrise

Later, she and I almost collided. I was walking between buildings as she was flying between them, fortunately, her reaction time is much better than mine. She was able to pull up and miss me, I surprised myself by reacting quickly enough to get a very bad shot of her pulling up to avoid me.

Crash avoidance

Back to the warm glow of sunrise.

Mute swan at sunrise

Yes, the swans are back, and the geese still aren’t honking, unless they are flying over. The ones that seem like they are going to nest here are more quiet than any geese I have ever seen. I knew that mute swans didn’t make much noise, but I didn’t think that the got their name by muting the other waterfowl as well. 🙂

Willows at sunrise

I did catch a cardinal borrowing a chickadee’s jetpack to zip around with.

Male northern cardinal in flight

Everywhere but at the back pond wildlife was on the move, I hate to repeat myself time and time again, but that sure has me stumped. As does the fact that I have yet to see any of the wading birds around here yet this year, other than the one heron.

It was a great morning to be out walking, even the trees look different at dawn.

River birch

River birch

I had forgotten how dramatic, and how tricky sunlight is early in the morning.

Wild turkey at dawn

I suppose since critters were a big part of my walk I will have to add some photos of them, since they were responsible for how much I enjoyed it.

Red-winged blackbird singing

Black capped chickadee

Male northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

And I have a story about this next one.

Red bellied woodpecker

That photo was taken on my first lap around, I did two laps today since it was so nice. On the second lap, I saw an English starling perched in the woods very near where the photo above was taken. That’s a bit odd, the starlings normally stick to the buildings and other man-made structures, which suits me just fine. Apparently, the red bellied woodpecker thinks that’s where the starlings belong as well, because it came screaming in at full speed and beat the snot out of that starling! I couldn’t get a photo because of the branches, but the woodpecker was using wings, beak, and claws to drive the starling out of the woods!

This is the only photo from that fracas.

Red bellied woodpecker in flight

I knew that woodpeckers defended their territory, but I had no idea how vicious they could be while doing so.

I had hoped to see more mammalian life by getting out there at dawn, so what happened? I took a short break after the first lap, stepped out, and spotted a whitetail deer in the brush, at about the same time I normally start during the week.

Whitetail deer hiding in the brush

There were several deer, but they were sticking way back in the brush, that’s the best I could do today.

The only other thing of note was a cedar waxwing.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

I’m going to call this entry done, because I was in my own little world today during my walk, drunk on spring, so there wasn’t much thinking going on. Oh, one thing, one of the swans may have an injured leg. It doesn’t use that leg to paddle, and it holds its foot up all the time, I’ll have to keep an eye on that if they hang around. I’m not sure what could be done about it, the state has forbidden licensed wildlife rescue groups from saving mute swans. The leg doesn’t seem to be causing pain or problems for the swan, other than it can’t walk on land.

The other reason for cutting this one off is so that I don’t start the week out way behind as I have done the last two weeks. 😉

Monday

Rain is moving through the area this morning, and it is about to end, so I am fooling around for a few minutes until it does end. Glorious spring rain! It will help to green everything up even quicker, and I sure am tired of brown. After last year’s cool and wet spring, this warmth so far in March is very welcome. It’s predicted to last through the foreseeable future, with temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees F all this week.

Waiting for the rain to let up also gives me time for a silly news item. Two sheriff deputies in a neighboring county were injured slightly when their cruiser struck a herd of deer in the road. Nothing noteworthy about that, other than the way the story was written. I believe a producer wrote it as there is no byline, but whoever wrote had to point out that the collision took place despite the fact that the cruiser was a fully marked county patrol car. Like deer know what a fully marked patrol car is? I think some one grew up watching too many Disney movies and actually believes that animals understand the human world. Heck, I don’t even understand the human world.

Enough of that, time for my walk.

Cloudy, and a bit damp at times, but a great walk. Early on, I spotted the true sign that spring has arrived, a nightcrawler on the sidewalk. Other plants and animals may give you a false signal that spring is here, not the lowly nightcrawler. When they appear it means that the ground itself has warmed enough for them to become active. However, that raises a question.

We have many robins around here, and they were out in force yesterday, some were pulling other nightcrawlers from the ground, but I can’t recall ever seeing a robin, or any other bird, eat one of the crawlers or worms that are on the sidewalk or pavement. Hmmm. I have read lots of theories as to why the worms crawl from the relative safety of their burrows to expose themselves to danger, but why don’t the birds take advantage of that?

Birds are usually quick to pick up on easy pickings when it comes to food, like gulls following fishing boats for example. The crows and ravens here in Michigan will fly up and down roads looking for fresh roadkill to feed on. Why haven’t the robins learned that there are easy pickings when it comes to earthworms after a rain, by flying or hopping down the sidewalks to pick up the worms? Could it be that there is something wrong with those worms that cause them to crawl onto the pavement, and the birds know that, and leave them?

Anyway, I got to the pinegrove and the scent of pine was wonderful, I stood there for some time enjoying the smell. The pinegrove is a stand of around 20 white pines planted here, it’s nice, but it left me wanting the real thing.

The swans were gone from the long back pond, so I played with the geese again, trying to get them to honk, no luck. They waddled off to the pond and swam off, with just a couple of muted honks. I went down to the end of the street there, and was heading back up the other side, when the geese began honking like crazy. I hustled over to see why, I couldn’t see any reason, but they were honking as I haven’t heard them honk in weeks. It was as if it were a delayed reaction to when I had tried chasing them off a few minutes earlier, they honked away, then took off for one of the other ponds in the area, strange.

Other than that, not much to note, so on to Tuesday.

Tuesday

We had thunderstorms move through during the evening, now, bright blue sky and sunshine for my walk today!

The way to describe today’s walk, sensory overload! Birds everywhere, some singing, some feeding, some mating. I don’t think there was ever a second when there wasn’t a bird moving someplace in sight, and for every one I could see, I could hear several more! Add in all the trees starting to flower and bud out, and it’s a wonder that I’m not still out there.

I started out chasing a flock of Juncos, but all I got were so-so shots like this.

Dark eyed junco

I also got a few of the house finches singing.

Male house finch

And, I shot of few of the fox squirrels being their usual charming selves.

Fox squirrel sunning

The swans were back, and I was only going to check on the condition of the cob’s leg to see if I could tell how badly it is injured, but they put on quite a show for me, enough for a post of its own, here’s a teaser.

Mute swans

I need to shorten up these daily entries to give myself more time to work on other posts. So, the quick run-down. The weather, perfect, cool to begin and it warmed up nicely. It’s funny, one of the local meteorologists is already making predictions about next winter based on the quick warm-up we’ve had in March. I don’t know why they do that, well, I guess it is their job, but. He was 150 degrees off on his predictions for this last winter, I would say 180 degrees off, but February did end up being above average for snowfall. That was the only thing they got right. The predictions last fall were for a long, cold, snowy winter, and we never really got any snow until the end of January, and we never had a real cold snap with below zero temperatures.

The thunderstorms that rolled through last night weren’t even in the forecast until late on Sunday afternoon, they can’t get a 24 hour forecast correct, but they think they can predict next winter from a week in March.

One other thing to note, other people were out today. All of them had ear buds stuffed in their ears, connected to their MP 3 players, i-pods, or cell phones, which I don’t understand at all. The birds were making music, music that I have been waiting months to hear again. I thought that I was a big music lover, but I guess not, since I would rather listen to birds than man-made music on a day like today. On to Wednesday.

Wednesday

A repeat of yesterday as far as the weather, couldn’t ask for better, but we may get it anyway. Now they are predicting near or above record highs for later this week, maybe 80 degrees.

In other news, a follow-up about the deputies that hit the deer while in their fully marked cruiser. In the update, they wanted to make sure every one knew that it wasn’t the deer’s fault. OK.

The Land Conservancy of West Michigan is going to use photos from one of my kayak trips on the Grand River in their newsletter, I am honored!

Back from my walk, the weather, hot! Bright blue skies and a beautiful day, but too much heat too soon.

The birds seem to be fighting over nesting spots in the evergreens, since the deciduous trees haven’t even begun to show any leaves. This quick warm up has spring going at hyper speed. The male goldfinches haven’t even molted to their summer color yet, but some of them are building nests already.

The swans were gone, I saw one fly past my window as I was drinking my coffee, so that didn’t surprise me. They will be back I think.

The back pond, deader than a door nail, I’m not sure, but I think the lone pair of mallards may have even left. I can’t say for sure, since I haven’t really looked very hard for them, and they can stay well hidden in the weeds around the pond when they are resting.

I saw several small flocks of sandhill cranes fly past, but none of them have stopped this year, that I know of. No herons or egrets either. But, I was thinking about that last night while driving through an area where I often see very large flocks of the large wading birds, and I haven’t seen them yet this year. I saw the huge flocks last fall as they prepared to fly south, maybe all that changed with the warm winter that we had, and the flocks have already dispersed. It is only since the time change that I am driving through that area when it is light enough to see. What was happening two weeks ago, I can’t say.

I spent way too much time today taking photos of one of our hawks around here.

Hawk

I am beginning to think that there are a pair of red-tails, a pair of sharpies, and that this one is either a Coopers hawk, or an immature red-tailed hawk. I took so many photos of this one while it was posing for me that I sat down to take a break, waiting for it to fly. It looked like I do a lot of the time around here, its head was just about spinning as it tried to keep track of all the bird and other wildlife activity going on around it. Eventually a flock of English sparrows flocking to an evergreen were too much for the hawk, and it made a pass at the sparrows.

Hawk in flight

I don’t know if the hawk connected or not, it was still perched in the evergreen when I decided it was time to get going. That sure got all the other birds all worked up though, they were all sounding the alarm. I’m not sure that’s such a good idea withe the hawk still there, the hawk was listening as much as watching, and those alarm calls tip the hawk off to where the other birds are. Hmmm.

About that shot, I thought I had panned out enough to get the entire hawk in the frame when it did decide to fly, I should have panned out a little more. I also used aperture priority to get more depth of field so that the auto-focus didn’t have to be spot on. I don’t know if the slower shutter speed or focus is the reason it is a little blurred. I was shooting at ISO 200, the best my Nikon will do so that I could get shots like this one before the hawk flew off.

Hawk portrait

Maybe I should have bumped the ISO up to 400 for the flight photo. Next time. There will be a next time, as this hawk is getting quite used to me approaching it and photographing it. It watches me closely as I approach it, then it seems to recognize me, and act as if I’m not even there. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.

I want to take a trip to Ludington with my kayak one of these weekends, and paddle the canoe trail there, along with the other marshes north of the trail. So, I am going to stick close to home the next few weekends to save up money for the way overpriced gas to get there. I am going to check into renting a vehicle as well, my explorer is on its last legs, and it only gets 20 MPG on a good day, 15 MPG the rest of the time. I think the savings in gas will almost pay for the rental, at least that’s what I am hoping.

Well, that’s it for Wednesday, on to Thursday.

Thursday

Hot! We set a record high temperature yesterday, of either 79 or 80 degrees, depending on which media outlet you choose to believe. Too much heat too soon! Where did spring go? Two weeks ago we had some of the coldest weather of the winter, now, summer-like temperatures. One nice thing, the windows are open, and neither the furnace or air conditioner are running.

This quick warm-up has drained the energy from me, the way that it always does. As I got home from work last night, there was a thunderstorm drifting along just to the south of here, with a beautiful lightning display going on, so I sat outside for a while to watch it. That’s funny in a way, I would have had a better view from my apartment window, but it was nice sitting outside in the cool breeze from the storm. All we got from that storm were a few sprinkles of rain, but another shower must have come through early this morning, as it is damp outside. Just what I don’t need, humidity to go with the heat.

One more weather note, while we were around 80 degrees here inland, right along the Lake Michigan shoreline, they never even made 60 degrees, and they are socked in with fog this morning. That huge lake with water temperatures still in the 30’s sure makes a difference in the weather!

Time to break out the summer gear for today’s walk, I’ll be back in an hour or so.

A more or less typical day, the birds are going nuts! The males are singing from the tree tops, making it hard to get a good photo of them. And, the females are in the evergreens, squabbling over nesting sites, making it even harder to get a shot of them. Any time I stood by an evergreen for any length of time at all, birds would come busting out of the tree eventually. The females tend to stay put if they think that they are hidden from view, but if you stand there, they begin to think that you’ve spotted them, and they head for other cover.

My timing was off today as well, must be the heat. I missed any photos of a flock of cedar waxwings, and many others as well.

The back pond was dead as has been the case all spring, and for that matter, the front pond hasn’t had much going on except for a pair of mallards. It’s the transitional time of the year. The female mallards must be beginning to nest, as everyday there are fewer of them in the ponds. The females have spread out along the creeks and back in the woods to nest. When I see groups of mallards now, it is almost all males. There’s one pair of geese at each the center and long back pond, and that’s about it.

There was one swan in the long back pond, I scoped the shore out as well as I could looking for its mate, but couldn’t see her. It’s pretty unusual for a mated pair to be separated from each other at this time of year. The male swans will defend their mates, the nest, and the young when they arrive, sometimes to the death.

At one point, a flock of geese flew over, honking as they usually do, which got the geese in the long back pond honking as well. The swan was chasing them across the pond as they continued to honk, that’s the first time in a long time that’s happened. The geese eventually waddled up on shore, and the gander turned to face down the swan. I was too far away and the light was all wrong for any photos, but the gander stood up to the swan in a way that he never has before. I think that the geese have figured out that the injury to the swan’s leg prevents it from leaving the water. Something I’ll have to keep an eye on.

The first tree leaves are just beginning to appear, with weather like this, it won’t be very long before the brown that’s been here since late October turns to green again.

I finished the second half of my walk today much quicker than I normally would have. The clouds were building up, and I realized that I didn’t have any way to protect my camera if it started to rain. That would not have been a good thing, to say the least. I’d better start packing a rain jacket, just in case on days like today. On to Friday.

Friday

The heat wave has been put on hold for at least a few hours, a dense fog has blanketed the area so far this morning.When I first got up, I could barely make out the trees across the parking lot from my window. The fog is just beginning to burn off now, that has given me the time to post the photos of the swans mating rituals.

The science geek in me loves the details I was able to capture in those shots, the romantic buried deep within me wishes that I could have taken them in softer light, and maybe have even used a soft focus filter to better capture the mood at the time. To tell you the truth, I felt like a bit of a pervert while I was shooting those photos, as if I were intruding on a very private and very special moment between the swans.

That stands in stark contrast to the series I shot of the mallards mating, which was quite humorous. Animals never cease to amaze me.

The fog is beginning to burn off, so it’s time to get moving, be back in a few.

I’m back. I spent way too much time out there watching and listening to the birds, and I even managed a few photos despite the fog. It was pleasantly cool when I started, and the fog didn’t really begin to lift until I was almost done, but then it got warm in a hurry, just like this spring. I’ve worn my light jacket three times so far this spring, and on two of those days, I’ve had to shed it because it was too warm. Right from a winter parka to T-shirts, yuck. I wanted spring, not summer.

The waterfowl are continuing to spread out for nesting, the only geese I saw were in flight, and the ponds are slowly emptying of mallards as well. The swans were gone, I wonder if they will return?

Where are the wading birds? The last two days I have seen some good size bass in two of the ponds, and large schools of small bluegills. Even the frogs have come out of hibernation, I saw a few and could hear even more back in the new swamp. I did see some large flocks of the wading birds yesterday evening while working, maybe they are just arriving.

The sharpies are eating well, I found two piles of feathers, one I couldn’t identify, the other was a robin. I don’t like to see anything die, but, that’s part of nature, the sharpies have to eat too. The red-tailed hawks have found a new large tree to scout from after their old favorite blew down last week. This one is also well out of photography range. 😩

A few very small early wildflowers are appearing, but I don’t have the lens to get good photos of them. If there is one thing this place could use, it would be more early spring flowers. In just a short time, this place is going to erupt in blooms of many kinds, I’ll be busy then, for sure.

It’s dawned on me that I haven’t done a bad action shot for a while, not that I haven’t taken many, I just haven’t posted them. So, to set this one up, I was watching a pair of cardinals gathering nesting materials as I was standing on the bridge over the creek. I saw a pair of mallards in the creek downstream from me, but didn’t pay much attention to them. Then, another male mallard came into view, swimming towards the first pair, with a purpose. He began chasing the pair, but they saw me on the bridge, leaving them nowhere to go but up.

A pair of mallards in flight

Darned tree had to jump into that shot, didn’t it?

That’s my second shot of them, I choked on the first one for some reason, almost like flinching when shooting a gun. I was in too much of a hurry to keep panning and stay with the mallards, and was swinging the camera too quickly.

I guess this is an action shot as well. A cedar waxwing dropping a berry as it tried to get the berry in the right position to swallow it.

Cedar waxwing

Then watching the berry fall.

Cedar waxwing

It made sure that it didn’t drop the next berry.

Cedar waxwing

I was a split second too slow, the berry is on its way down the hatch.

That’s it for today, tomorrow and Sunday I face my usual quandary for the weekends, stay here where I know I will get some good wildlife photos, or go to one of the parks in the area where I may not be so lucky. Where I go will also be determined by the weather, and for right now at least, no one is exactly sure what the weather will be like tomorrow. It may rain, it may not. It could be sunny, no one knows. 🙂 Oh well, it will be Saturday, and there will be weather, so on to Saturday.

Saturday

I had some errands to run in the morning, so I got a late start today. Summer is in full swing, we have skipped spring it seems like. Two weeks ago there was still snow on the ground. Last weekend, spring arrived, and the buds that were just beginning to open are now fully open…

Poplar catkin

..or even covering the ground already. I swear that you can see some of the plant life growing right before your eyes if you watch carefully enough.

Poplar catkins covering the ground

The frogs…

Frog

…and the turtles…

Painted turtles sunning

…have come out of hibernation and are taking advantage of this warm weather. They are predicting record highs for the next several days, and the warmth is supposed to stick around for most of the next week.

The ponds are nothing like they were even last week, all the waterfowl have moved off for nesting, with just a few stray mallards, mostly males, and maybe a pair of geese at each pond. Still no wading birds.

What really surprises me though are the creeks. They are normally great places to hang out and get photos of various birds coming and going, but other than an occasional mallard, there isn’t nearly as much bird activity along the creeks as there normally is, for any time of the year. I did get this photo of a song sparrow though.

Song sparrow

They normally blend in with their surroundings so well that it is hard to get a good photo of one. This was one of a pair that were nice enough to go walking across the newly emerging aquatic plants to give me a great photo-op!

With this warm weather, I would usually be photographing birds bathing in the creeks, but that isn’t happening this year, the birds are all too busy building nests to bathe. Everywhere you look you can see birds with their beaks full of twigs, grass, or whatever they can find to build nests with. The fights over the evergreens continue, there aren’t enough trees to go around.

Both the pair of red-tailed and the sharpies were soaring high overhead today. The better the weather, the higher they stay it seems, I guess that makes sense. They can see better and don’t need to fly as low to spot their prey, and their prey can see better, so the hawks have to soar higher to remain unnoticed.

I also spotted another large flock of sandhill cranes on their way north, I am still surprised none of them have stopped here though.

I think that’s it for today, and for the week, and what a week it’s been. I think I’ll do another lap around here this evening, just before sunset. As for tomorrow, I’m not sure yet. I was thinking about getting the kayak out for the first time this year, but the forecast is for a very good chance of thunderstorms, so a hike may be a better plan. Maybe I go check on the deer and see how they are doing this summer spring.

Thanks for stopping by!


The swan ballet

People have long associated swans with beauty, grace, and the very idea of a faithful love. For one thing, swans mate for life, and the male swan, or cob, defends his mate, or pen, sometimes to his death. The courting rituals of swans are one of the most beautiful things I, or most people, have ever witnessed. Is it any wonder that Tchaikovsky composed a ballet that incorporated those ideals and named it swan lake? Is it any wonder that we humans have adopted the shape of the necks of swans in love, ♄, to represent our own hearts and love?

So here’s a photo series I was lucky enough to witness a few days ago. It starts with the two swans coming together for some gentle nuzzling.

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Then the male began to mimic everything that the female did.

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Then, it was back to more nuzzling, and even a little playful splashing.

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Then the ballet begins

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

Mute swans courting

I wish that I was a better writer and could put words worthy enough to go along with the photos, but I think the photos do a pretty good job of portraying the obvious affection these swans have for each other. I think that any one who doesn’t believe that animals have or display emotions would change their minds if they were to see this in person.

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


The Weekly Photo Challenge: Contrast

I messed up and looked at a few of the entries already posted for this week’s challenge, usually I don’t. That didn’t really change what I had in mind for this post anyway, but it was interesting to see other people’s take on it before I did my own post.

The first thing that came to mind was Ansel Adams’ high contrast black and white landscape photos, but alas, I don’t live near Yosemite or the other wonderful places he shot. Besides, I think that the high contrast black and white thing has been, and continues to be, overdone, and not always very well.

Thinking about it, I thought about the contrasts in the plumage between the sexes of many species birds, like these mallards.

Mallards

In many species, the males are brightly colored, while the females are not what I would call drab like many people do, but I would say better camouflaged so that they blend in with their surrounding better to protect them and their young from predators.

Another example are cardinals.

The females blend in well with their surroundings.

Female northern cardinal

The males obviously don’t.

Male northern cardinal

That got me to thinking about contrasting colors, the red of the cardinal, the blue of the sky, and the green of the tree. Red, blue, and green are known as a Triad, because they are about equally spaced around the color wheel.

High contrast or complementary colors that are opposite one another on the color wheel may be described as clashing colors. Colors that clash are not necessarily a bad combination, they are very high contrast, high visibility pairings, as you can see in that photo. But where does white fit in?

Blue sky, white clouds

Is that high contrast? Or, do I have to throw in some green?

Blue sky, white clouds, green tree

I wish that a male cardinal had shown up about that time to perch in the tree to make it a perfect shot, but luck wasn’t with me that day.

Then I started thinking, what critter do I have the most trouble getting a good shot of because of contrast, and the answer was easy, a Canadian goose.

Canadian goose

Black and white, definitely high contrast, and while you may see many photos of geese, it is darned hard to get the exposure just right on a goose’s head.

Canadian goose

So I am quite proud of those two photos, no detail lost in the black plumage from being under exposed, and no detail lost in the white plumage from being over exposed. I am also quite proud of the fact that I was able to sneak up on the goose from behind a pine tree and get those two shots before it vamoosed out of there! I don’t think that the goose was expecting some crazed photographer to jump out of a pine tree less than ten feet away from it and start shooting photos. What the poor critters have to put up with around here with me running loose with a camera, makes even me feel sorry for them.

Well, that’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


My Week…Sproing!

Sunday

I am going to start with my oddball thought of the day, are there right-winged birds and left-winged birds? Most humans are right-handed, a few are left-handed, and then there are a few who are ambidextrous, are birds the same way? The reason that popped into my head is from having watched a number of raptors taking off recently. I notice that they tend to dip one shoulder as they take off, and they don’t fly exactly in a straight line. By that, I mean if you were to draw a line from their tail to their beak and extend that out, they fly at a slight angle to that. Here’s an example of what I mean.

Sharp shinned hawk taking off

I think you can see quite clearly in that photo what I am talking about. I notice that when I watch raptors take off, but not other birds. I think that’s because raptors tend to leave their legs dandling as they take off, now I am going to have to start watching other species and see if they do the same thing. Something else for me to ponder as I wander.

In weather news, three counties just north of here have declared emergencies due to the heavy snow, close to 24 inches in places, glad that one missed!

Still more news, the plans by the Michigan DNR to reduce the mute swan population has some people up in arms, on both sides of the issue. The animal rights people are opposed, and many lakeshore property owners want the DNR to go after the Canadian geese as well. I am somewhat ticked off by a recent development in that story. The DNR’s original plan was to donate the meat from the swans to soup kitchens, food pantries, and homeless shelters to help feed the poor, a good idea, I thought. But, the department of health stepped in and put an end to that plan because the department of health hasn’t studied swan meat to see if it is contaminated by what the swans have been feeding on.

How about a little common sense here please? Even if the DNR were to kill off every swan in Michigan at this time and donate the meat to feed the poor, the poor would only get one or two meals from all that meat, it wouldn’t kill any one or lead to long-term health problems, even if the swans had been feeding in contaminated areas. But, common sense doesn’t cost millions of dollars to find out that eating one or two, maybe even three meals containing swan meat isn’t going to do irreparable harm to any one.

I won’t even go into all the uniformed comments being made on the subject, I’ll hope that the plan works, and the trumpeter swan and loon populations can make a come back.

Now for my walk today. It sure sounded like spring out there, the birds were really singing today! It was the coldest day in a week as far as the actual temperature reading, but it felt like one of the warmest since there was almost no wind for a change. It was a typical Michigan winter nice day, clouds almost blocking the sun, and snow falling on and off, more on than off.

I didn’t take many photos, it would have been a good day for photography if I could have found birds low enough to the ground or close enough to make photographing them worthwhile. What I did shoot aren’t all that great. I did get this one of the pair of ring-necked ducks in the long back pond.

Ring-necked ducks

With the cold snap over-night, the ponds are nearly frozen over again, and the only open water always seemed to be on the parts of the ponds that I can’t get to. So of course that’s where all the waterfowl were today. I’m hoping the ring-necks stick around and I can get a really good photo of them. If they want, they can spend the summer here and raise a brood if they wish.

I guess the big story today was the snow. I don’t know why, but it was really quite annoying today for some reason. I had to wipe the moisture from it melting on my face every few minutes, and it was sticking in my eyelashes all the time also.

I thought about walking over to the chain of lakes, but the best of them would have been frozen over like the ponds here were, and the ones that would have had open water are the ones where photography is almost impossible due to the size of the lakes, and the way the sun hits them.

As it was, I took my time doing one long lap around here, enjoying the bird’s songs and the lack of wind. It’s supposed to get down into the teens tonight, and remain chilly tomorrow, then the warm-up is forecast to begin. I hope so, I am ready for spring, as if you all haven’t heard that too many times already.

Monday

After a very cold early March night, I woke up to hear the furnace running this morning. That’s unusual, I turn the thermostat down so low at night that the heat from the apartments below me is normally enough so that my furnace doesn’t run until I turn the thermostat up for the day. Brrr.

I have been fooling around inside, waiting for the snow flurries to end, and for it to warm up a little outside. That strategy seems to be working, I can see blue sky for the first time in nearly a week, the turkeys out feeding, and the fox squirrels playing in the tree tops. Time for a walk!

Ok, it is official, this place has gone to the critters! I went for my walk today and shot over 250 pictures, I haven’t even had time to view them all yet. Monday is the day I visit my mother in the nursing home, so I have less time to play.

Then, when I got home tonight, my Internet access is out, so I am typing this to be
transferred later.

First up, not far from the door to my apartment, there was a male cardinal singing towards the top of a spruce tree, but he was mostly hidden.

Male northern cardinal

I told him I would try to make him an international internet star if he would pose for me, he said he had to think about it for a while. So, while he was mulling over my offer, I shot this bald eagle that was passing through.

Bald eagle in flight

I would have liked to have gotten a better pic of the eagle, but the way things are going around here, I’m going to wake up some morning and find one perched on the balcony. 😉

The cardinal saw that, and did come over to pose for me.

Male northern cardinal

A chickadee was trying to tell the cardinal that the spruce tree was already spoken for, by him.

Black capped chickadee

A few steps later, one of the sharpies flew over.

Sharp shinned hawk in flight

But, it didn’t bother the mallards sleeping in the front pond.

Sleeping mallards

But all those raptors soaring over made all the fox squirrels nervous, I couldn’t get close to any of them. That’s OK, plenty of other wildlife to shoot. There were lots of herring gulls as always.

Herring gull in flight

And Canadian geese.

Canadian goose

The ring-neck ducks are still here.

Male ring-necked duck

The swans have returned.

Mute swans

While I was photographing them, a couple of turkeys ran over to have their picture taken.

Turkeys

Those two had just left, when three more showed up.

More turkeys

Now is this crazy or what? I’m in an apartment complex, and I need a wide-angle lens to shoot all the wildlife I can see at one time. Here we have turkeys, geese, swans, mallards, and you can’t see the ring-necked ducks off to the right. Is it any wonder that I am going nuts trying to photograph everything going on around here?

An abundance of wildlife

The mallards were busy making more mallards.

Mating mallards kissing

That got the gander all worked up, he thought that there should be more geese being made.

Goose mating rituals

But the mute swans apparently don’t like other birds mating, because the cob came swimming towards the geese, which shut them up.

Mute swan

A cardinal perched in the tree above me to begin singing.

Male northern cardinal

The geese had gone quiet, so the cob harassed the mallards for a while for starting it all in the first place.

Mute swans harassing mallards

The ring-necks came over to see what all the fuss was about.

A pair of ring-necked ducks

I knew it was getting late and I didn’t have much time, so I left the Peyton Place pond to finish my walk. I was nearly done when I spotted another turkey off in the woods, I was standing there debating if I should get the camera out to shoot a picture. I should have, because about that time, a fox squirrel fell, or jumped out of the tree the turkeys were under, and came crashing to the ground. I was debating whether to shoot a photo of the squirrel that had just landed, when one of the sharpies came over to see what was making all the noise.

Sharp shinned hawk

Then she posed for a few portraits.

Sharp shinned hawk

Sharp shinned hawk

After she showed up, it occurred to me that the squirrel may have taken the express elevator down to escape the hawk, I don’t know. Here’s the turkey in the distance, the squirrel hit the brushpile in the foreground.

Woods and turkey

By that time the snow had returned, the lake effect type of snow, but it was cold out there! I had spent so much time taking photos that my fingers were numb. I’m sure looking for the warm-up that is supposed to begin on Tuesday! February went into the record books as warmer than normal, but it was more winter-like the last two weeks of the month than what it had been all winter long up until then. March is just getting started, but it has been cold and windy just like the end of February was so far.

On to Tuesday.

Tuesday

I haven’t finished the Monday entry yet, no Internet last night has me way behind. I have been watching the red-tailed hawks gathering nest material this morning, along with the turkeys and squirrels doing their usual morning routines. The weather is great! It is already warmer than it ever got yesterday, one of the coldest days in some time.

I am almost afraid to walk out the door, with this weather, I may end up with over 300 photos today.

Well, that didn’t happen. I did take nearly 100 pictures, and deleted a good deal of them. I was trying to capture the ripples in some thin ice on the front pond for the weekly photo challenge, but none of them came out the way I wanted.

The swans and ring-necked ducks were gone, the geese and mallards were dozing for the most part. I did shoot this one of a male mallard in my quest for the perfect photo of every species around here, this one is darned close.

Male mallard

I shot a few of the tweety birds.

Male downy woodpecker

White breasted nuthatch

Black capped chickadee

The weather was grand, but the smaller birds seemed to all be in motion, either feeding, defending their territory’s, in the process of nest building, or blowing around in the wind. Yeah, the wind was back, but this time it is a warm southerly breeze blowing warm air into the area. So warm that I found the first bee of spring!

First bee of spring

There was a flock of sandhill cranes to the north of here, circling and calling as the flock formed, I presume to head farther north. It is so cool to hear what I describe as their warbling croaking as they call out to each other. They were too far away for anything other than a terrible photo, maybe next time they will be closer.

For my bad action shot of the day, a robin in flight.

American robin in flight

And speaking of robins, this portrait of a robin.

American robin

Tomorrow is supposed to be even warmer, with a high near 60 degrees, before the rain moves in for the afternoon, I hope they are right!

Since I haven’t finished yesterday’s entry, I’m going to call this one done, finish yesterday, and look forward to Wednesday.

Wednesday

Spring is here! Just as if some one had flipped a switch. The high temperature yesterday was twice as warm as on Monday, and the warm weather is predicted to hang around for the foreseeable future. The wind is roaring out of the south today, blowing the warm air in, but there’ll be no wind chill today!

One thing I forgot about for yesterday’s entry, one of the hawks made another McMallard Meal here. I found another, much larger pile of duck feathers scattered around the same area as before. I think that the hawk uses that same tree whenever it makes a kill in the area. Still, there were ducks sleeping in the creek right where the hawk likes to hunt. It is supposed to cloud up later in the day, ahead of rain tonight, so I’m getting out there now.

What a great day! Maybe not as far as photography, but spring has sprung, and the critters and I were loving it. I actually took quite a few photos, but none of them are really any better than what I have already posted here, so I’m not going to bother with them. I started off shooting what would have been a very good photo of a nuthatch, but there was a twig full of buds right behind the nuthatch’s head, making it look like the nuthatch had some odd growth growing out of its head, it was that kind of day. I was either too far away, or the light was wrong for the best shots. The wind and the clouds didn’t make things any easier. I got close to a goldfinch singing, but it was bouncing around so much in the wind, and branches blowing in front of it, that the photos aren’t that good.

The new swamp is full of mallards, along with a few geese. The back pond still has me puzzled, just the same pair of mallards that have been there for weeks.That pond has the least human activity around it, it is fenced off, and normally it is where I have seen the most waterfowl and wading birds, this spring, nothing. I’ve looked for reasons why, but whatever it is, I can’t tell.

The two ponds with the most waterfowl this spring have been the center and long back pond, and those are the two with the most human activity around them. The swans are still here, the ring-necked ducks are gone, I wonder if those two things are connected? The interactions between the species of waterfowl is quite interesting. The geese and the mute swans seem to get along fine one day, not so fine on the next. Today one swan was laying on shore, surrounded by mallards and geese, the cob was feeding in the pond, also surrounded by mallards and geese. The swans only seem to react when there is mating activity occurring between the other species. Do mute swans understand that mating activity by other waterfowl leads to the other species nesting?

The mute swans tolerate the mallards and geese with in just a few feet of them, until the ducks mate or the geese begin their mating honking, then the swans become aggressive. Interesting, very interesting.

The turkeys are doing their typical turkey dances everyday now, and the flocks of hen turkeys are starting to break up as they prepare to nest.

I saw the red-tailed hawks, one flew close and low, but with the heavy clouds, the photos are bad. They were hunting today, yesterday I watched them gathering materials for a nest. I couldn’t see where they went, but I’ll keep an eye out for that.

It is so great to hear birds singing again! It won’t be long, and there will be brightly colored flowers to go along with the brightly colored birds!

It’s supposed to rain this evening, and it sure looks like it could start any time now. Tomorrow is supposed to be more seasonable in temperature, with the rain ending early. The first spring rain! Love it!

Thursday

The winds and rains came last night, later than predicted, and the gloomy skies are lingering today. I stayed up late last night to process and upload two videos I shot of the turkey dance to my Facebook page, and as a result, I overslept this morning. It is almost noon, and I’m still sitting here.

I said the turkey flocks are breaking up, wrong, they all came together again for some reason. A huge flock of close to fifty have been feeding in the woodlot across from me this morning as I have been trying to wake up.

The news item for today, the Michigan DNR was doing a controlled burn in Saugatuck State Park the day before yesterday, and with the high winds yesterday, coals from the controlled burn started an uncontrolled burn. Somewhere between 30 and 40 acres burned, not really any big deal, but who does a controlled burn when winds are predicted to exceed 50 MPH? The Michigan DNR does, sometimes I wonder about them.

Overall, every one in Michigan should be proud of the job the DNR does here, but there are too many stories like this that leaves you shaking your head wondering what were they thinking?

Time to get moving!

The actual air temperature was 30 degrees colder than yesterday, and it felt like even more than that. There was still a stiff breeze blowing out of the west that seemed to be putting a damper on much of the bird activity around here. I also noticed that a large dead tree to the west of my apartment has fallen sometime this week in all the wind we’ve been having. Why I mention it is because it was one of the red-tailed hawk’s favorite places to perch while scouting for food. Over the winter, a smaller dead tree that was used by many species of male birds as a spot to sing from fell over as well. Now I will have to locate the trees the birds are using as replacements.

There were a few birds singing, not many, and I don’t think that I heard a single cardinal, not too surprising given the weather today. I did see a few male cardinals chasing each other around near the main creek that flows through here. By the way, I tried looking up the creek on my GPS mapping software, and it doesn’t even show up. I can tell from the topography of the area that the creek is a tributary of Buck Creek, which in turn flows into the Grand River.

I saw the male sharpie hunting along the creek, I could tell it was the male because he’s smaller than the female, and he hunts from treetops, while she hunts much closer to the ground.

I spent way too much time at the long back pond watching the mute swans and geese interacting.

Mute swans and Canadian goose

When I first popped my head around the corner to look out over the pond, I could tell that the geese wanted to start honking. They did everything but honk, even opening their bills along with shaking their heads and the rest of the actions they take to signal danger. Then it dawned on me, that while the swans have been here, none of the geese in any of the ponds are as vocal as they normally are. Hmmm. You wouldn’t think that the presence of swans in one pond would affect the actions of geese in another pond, but it seems to. The mallards also act differently now that the larger waterfowl are around. They seem much more relaxed and not always on high alert as they were over the winter. It’s as if they depend on the geese and swans to warn them of danger, or it could be that they are all worn out from all the mating they are doing. For the last week or so, it seems the mallards are either mating or sleeping. 😉

The back pond still has me puzzled, just a lone pair of mallards there. I saw one heron at night in the front pond, and a flock of sandhill cranes in the distance to the north, but we’ve had no wading birds visit any of the ponds from what I can tell. The back pond has always been a stop over point for egrets, cranes, and herons in the past, I wonder if the swans being in the area has something to do with the fact that the wading birds aren’t stopping?

Back to the swans and geese. One goose seemed to be extremely curious about what the swans were finding to eat under water. It would swim over and watch the swans feeding until it was nearly touching a swan, then the swans would half heartedly chase the goose off, as you can see in the photo above, then the process would repeat. That made me extremely curious as to why the goose would be so interested in what the swans were feeding on, since geese feed almost exclusively on land.

So many questions to be answered, and so little time. I’m way behind on replying to the comments people have been making, sorry about that. I hope to catch up tonight.

Tomorrow is predicted to be cold again, that I wouldn’t mind if it wasn’t for the wind. Maybe the sun will be out and it will feel warmer, I hope so. I’m tired of the wind more than the cold. Nearly everyday for the last two weeks at some point in the day I have been able to hear the wind roaring outside. That’s it for today, on to Friday.

Friday

Great! Where did this snow come from? I’ll bet it was blown in here, carried on the 40 MPH wind gusts last night. The day before yesterday, we had wind gusts recorded at close to 60 MPH, when is this wind ever going to calm down?

You also have to love the local meteorologists who look out the window, see that it’s snowing, then update the forecast to include the chance of snow. 🙂

Oh well, as I was eating breakfast, a fox squirrel dropped by my balcony to remind me it was Friday, and time to toss out the stale bread and potato chip crumbs from this week. The turkeys are there under the balcony as they often are, and the sun is making a rare appearance, so I guess it is time to quit complaining about the wind and weather and get out there to join them.

I hate to do this, but I think I will have to put my action shots from today in a stand alone post. It was that kind of day today! It started out well, I had barely gotten out the door when one of the red-tailed hawks flew past me.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

The pair of them were in sight for a good deal of the time today, I didn’t get any great shots, not that I didn’t try. 😉

I know I am repeating myself, but the back pond still is puzzling me, just the one pair of mallards there. I found a spot out of the wind, and in the sun, and stood there for some time, thinking about all the photos I have taken of the waterfowl and wading birds around that pond, and for the life of me, I can’t see what has changed that would make it so uninviting to them now. Maybe it’s a spring thing, but I don’t think so.

The swans were gone from the long back pond today, of course I have no way of knowing if that’s temporary or not. But I did perform a little experiment today with the swans gone. Normally I try not bother the wildlife, today, I pushed the geese to see if I could get them to honk with the swans gone. Not really, they had been feeding in the grass, and I followed them all the way to the water’s edge, and all I got were a few muted honks, nothing like I would have expected before the swans showed up. If you’ve been around geese, you know how vocal they are, that’s one of the complaints people have about them. That and the way they crap all over the place.

What does that say about us as a species, there are people who would like to see the geese eradicated simply because they are too lazy to look down and step around the goose crap. Look out, I am going to repeat myself again.

Canadian geese

Thirty years ago, that would have been considered a special photo here in lower Michigan, there weren’t many geese left. There was even some concern that they would go extinct. Now, after banning DDT, better controls on hunting, and habitat improvement, the geese are returning to their rightful home. That’s correct, their rightful home! They have just as much right to live here as any of us humans do, and if you can’t be bothered to avoid stepping in goose crap, then maybe you are the one who should be relocated! You know, there are times that I think it would be a great idea if the animals could get together and decide on how best to control the human “problem” rather than the other way around, with humans deciding on how to control the animal “problem”. That may not be such a great idea though, the critters may vote to eliminate me, since I’m the one chasing them around with a camera. 😉

Back to my walk, I didn’t push the geese in the center pond as hard as I did the ones in the long back pond, but I was close enough and they were alerted enough that I would have expected some honking. I shot a large number of photos of the mallards chasing each other around the ponds, and got some of the very best mallard in flight photos I have ever taken, which is why I’ll put them in their own post.

I found this fox squirrel thinking it was hiding from me.

Fox squirrel hiding

And a male house finch singing.

Male house finch

He must have been singing the right notes!

Male and female house finches

He was joined by a female which prompted him to ask for a little privacy…

Male and female house finches

So I obliged and continued on my way. I spotted a turkey vulture, and shot this bad shot of it, for a reason.

Turkey vulture in flight

It doesn’t show up well in that photo, I’m going to have to do better. But, if you remember last week’s installment, a young eagle flew over and I pointed out that I could tell it was an eagle by the way its wings were flat across the top of the eagle’s body. I noted then, and I snapped this photo, to show how the wings of turkey vultures always start up from their body, then level off. It’s the way to identify between the two species at a distance.

I shot this one of a fox squirrel practicing its hand stands out in the street.

Fox squirrel playing in the street

And, I played peek-a-boo with a few turkeys.

Turkey playing peek-a-boo

There are times when I think that they are actually playing with me and that they enjoy the game, as long as I don’t get too close to them.

I shot a few more of the red-tailed hawks that I was going to throw in, but they’re not that special. So, I think that wraps up the day. Tomorrow is predicted to be great, we’ll have to see what it is really like, maybe more snow.

Saturday

I am determined to get an early start at least one day this weekend, dawn would be great, but that will have to be tomorrow. It should work well with the change to daylight saving time this weekend.

The news item of the day, the State of Michigan is going to start requiring a Recreational Passport for users of state forest campgrounds, trails, and other facilities with parking areas. I have no problem with that, in fact, I have even suggested that as a way for the state to generate revenue to maintain those facilities. I hope that they do eventually lower the per night fee for camping in a state forest campground, $15 a night is too steep for the rustic campgrounds that I generally use.

I got in a hurry and rushed right out there this morning, that wasn’t a wise thing to do, although it worked out in the end. It was cold, and as if I haven’t whined about the wind enough lately, it was very windy again today. Another high wind advisory posted, gusts to 35 MPH. A couple of times I let the hood from my parka blow up around my neck to keep the wind from blowing down my back. When I started out, I thought that the flower buds in the maple trees looked much larger than they have, I even tried taking a photo, which didn’t turn out since every branch in the woods was dancing around in the wind.

I did take a few photos for the weekly photo challenge, which I will work on shortly, but other than some same old same old red-tailed hawks soaring, I wasn’t getting many photos, there wasn’t much to shoot. The swans were gone, just a few mallards in the ponds, with a few geese as well. Even the tweety birds seemed to be hiding out.

By the time I got to the front of the complex, it was beginning to feel a lot nicer out there, even with the wind. My gut feeling all morning was that I should walk down to the chain of lakes to see if any wading birds were hanging around there. I usually go with my gut feelings, so down the road I went. There were very few birds other than herring gulls there. The swans were in the smallest of the feeder ponds that feed into the lakes, along with a pair of geese, a few mallards, and a pair of coots.

American coot

I did hear and see a flock of sandhill cranes off in the distance again, no photos though. By the time I walked back to the apartment complex, it was feeling really nice, that wind was blowing in some much warmer air. It felt like a much better day to be out enjoying it than sitting inside blogging about it, the wind had even died down a little.

As I turned the corner towards my apartment, I looked up to see that the maple buds had opened since I had begun my walk!

Maple flowers opening

Best I could do in the wind, sorry. It was such a nice day, I decided to do another lap, after a short break. I also changed my boots from the Red Wings to the New Balance to save some wear and tear on my legs. The Red Wings are starting to get broken in, I can even walk quietly in them now, but they still weigh a ton, each! As I was lacing up my boots, I looked out my window to see one of the red-tailed hawks fly past just over the tree tops, so I knew I had to go for another lap. I had just started when I got this photo.

Black capped chickadee

And this one of its buddy, the nuthatch.

White breasted nuthatch

I stopped at the center pond and took a slew of pictures of the mallards being mallards, they will be in a post of their own. I also saw either a gull attacking a red-tailed hawk, or the other way around, I’m not sure.

Gull and hawk

Hawk and gull

I think that a couple of the gulls were going to harass the hawk, and one of them got itself into a bad position as far as where it was relative to the hawk, and that the hawk let the gull know that it didn’t like being harassed.

I was also noticing that the buds on the poplar trees were opening!

Poplar buds opening

They had been closed during my first lap, it looked as if they were popping like slow motion popcorn. Spring was springing right before my eyes! Hence the title of this weeks entry, sproing!

Out front I shot a few of this muskrat. It was digging roots and tubers out of the mud, then taking them to the creek to wash them off and eat them.

Muskrat

Muskrat

What an amazing day it turned out to be after such a cold start to the day! Being out there and seeing the tree buds opening, how cool is that? What a difference a short time made, from when I began in the first place until after I finished the first lap and a break, like a completely different day.

I know I am probably forgetting many things from today, I was too busy enjoying the second half of the day to do much thinking about it. So ends another week, I still haven’t decided what I am going to do tomorrow, other than I am going to try to be out there extra early. That may not have been the best thing today, but it is going to stay much warmer tonight, and I am missing going for a walk at dawn, so I am going to give it a shot.

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