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

My Week…Mariah


The wind was brutal yesterday when I went to Muskegon for the snowy owl trip. When I was reading the news last night, there were stories about trees blown down and power lines taken out. That’s forecast to continue through today, and it may get worse. To top that off, there are predictions of significant freezing rain for Tuesday into Wednesday, I hope that one’s wrong! Since I think that the story for most of this week is going to be the wind, I have taken the title for this week from the song “They call the wind Mariah”.

Thinking back to yesterday, there is so much more I could say about it, from the other species I saw, identifying and photographing wildlife at a distance, and so much more. I would say I should get off my dead butt and do another post about it, but in this case, I would have to get on my dead butt to do it.

Anyway, I just saw a pair of mallards go whistling past my window, time to go out there and deal with the wind I can hear roaring in the distance. One thing about ducks before I go, other birds are noted for how fast they fly, but when it comes to straight-line level flight, ducks rank right up there as far as speed in flight. Give them a 30 MPH tailwind like those that just went past my window had, and they really can move it out.

As I expected, not many photos today, I took three. That’s rare around here, I could have shot a few of the mallards and geese in the ponds, but the weather was so rotten, there was really no reason to. The wildlife around here must be well fed, for they don’t seem to go on feeding binges just before a big storm hits. There were a few fox squirrels raiding the bird feeders, and several flocks of turkeys feeding in the woods, but most everything else seems to be hunkered down already, even though the real storm isn’t predicted to hit until tomorrow afternoon.

For the record, the temperature was just above freezing with heavy low clouds spitting some occasional snowflakes, and the wind roaring out of the west. I thought about going online and getting the exact official weather conditions and putting those into each day’s entry, but I have found that wildlife doesn’t go by exact official conditions, they go by how it feels to them. I know that isn’t scientific, but it’s what counts.

The wildlife I did see today was laying low and near shelter, I don’t blame them a bit. I feel like crap, and I know it’s because of the approaching storm. I know wildlife knows when storms are coming, I wonder if they feel it the same way that I do? My sinuses are all stuffed up, I have a headache and a stiff neck. I don’t know why, but I know that means get ready for a storm. Days like to today are the only time that a long walk outside makes me feel worse, rather than better.

Speaking of that, I should check on things here in the apartment in case the ice storm they are predicting is as bad as they are saying it will be. We don’t lose power here very often, but with between a quarter and a half-inch of ice predicted, losing power is a real possibility. With all my camping gear here in the apartment, going with out power isn’t that big of a deal, I have a lantern and candles for light, a Coleman stove for cooking, but I should empty a tote to put the food from the freezer in just in case the power is out for a while. If we lose power for an extended period of time, I’ll put the perishable food in the tote, and put that in the outside storage closet to keep it cold until power is restored.

So, on to Tuesday.


The calm before the storm. The wind finally died off last night, and it looks rather pleasant out there right now. I look out the window on the south side of my apartment and can see the family of fox squirrels that live in the woodlot there feeding in the treetops, and a few birds flitting around. I looked out of the window on the north side, and could see a large flock of turkeys feeding along the creek while mallards feed in the creek, paying no attention to the occasional squabbles among the turkeys. I could just sit on the balcony and shoot pictures of wildlife all day long, I love this place.

The storm is predicted to hit a little later today than they were saying yesterday, and most of the ice will be from here north. That’s really good news, my run for work is from here south for the most part, so that should go OK tonight. Tomorrow, the wind returns with a vengeance, with rain changing back to snow, so I had better get some good photos today. 😉

I did get quite a few good photos, nothing spectacular, but a lot of good ones. The feeding frenzy that I thought should be taking place yesterday is instead taking place today. That, and lots of springtime mating action going on out there today!

One thing before I start with the details of the walk and photos, people here are beginning to track me down while I am out for my walks, both to let me know where the wildlife is that day, and to ask questions about what they are seeing. The tips are always welcome, but it is nicer that people are beginning to take notice of the wildlife that does live here. It always starts about the same way, they tell me that they see me walking with my camera everyday, and they were wondering what I found to take photos of, so they watched what I was doing. Then, they saw what I was taking photos of, and started watching the wildlife as well, even though they don’t know what much of it is. It normally winds up with them saying that they had no idea that there was so much wildlife around here.

Talk about an added benefit to my walks, and I don’t mean the ego boost from people asking me about the wildlife. No, it is a sad fact of human nature that most people don’t get involved in something unless it affects them directly. With more people here watching the wildlife, they are far more likely to do what it takes to protect the wildlife than what they would if they didn’t know that it was living right outside their door.

OK, the first thing I noticed today was the number of mourning doves, they were everywhere. Pairs building nests, and singles cooing from the trees and the light poles. I’ve seen a few doves now and then all winter, but in the last few weeks, the number has increased dramatically.

Next up, a couple of photos of birds singing.

American robin singing

That’s actually the second robin I heard singing this spring, the first was earlier today, but I didn’t get a photo of him. A sure sign spring is on the way, robins singing.

Male northern cardinal singing

The cardinals have been singing for a couple of weeks, but sporadically, they were out singing in force today!

The females were too busy feeding, in preparation for the storm coming, to pay any attention to the males singing.

Female northern cardinal

The tom turkeys had the same problem, they were displaying for real, doing the turkey dance, but the females were paying no attention.

Turkey display dance

Turkey display dance

I took many photos of the turkeys, but that’s all for this post, I hope to do better later in the spring.

At one of the ponds, I watched a male mallard which couldn’t decide which end of the pond he wanted to be on flying back and forth across the pond.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

He did a quick splashdown, and leapt back into the air, maybe he has been watching the herring gulls too much!

Male mallard splashdown, and take off

Then back across the frozen pond he went.

Male mallard in flight

A Canadian goose tried much the same thing.

Canadian goose coming in for a crash

Canadian goose coming in for a crash

The ponds were ice free yesterday, so there was just a very thin layer of ice today, not enough to support a goose.

Canadian goose coming in for a crash

To its credit, it did remain upright when the ice gave way as it was sliding.

I am always surprised how quickly the ice can come and go on the ponds. Yesterday they were all ice free, today, all but the back pond were frozen over except for the very edges.

Next up, a chickadee with a beak full of food.

Black capped chickadee feeding

That’s it for the photos today.

As I am typing this, I looked out my window to see a red-tailed hawk fly over and perch in one of the trees right across the parking lot from my window, so cool! When I first moved in here, I would have been scrambling for a camera to get a photo, now, it’s just another day around here.

All in all, a very good day. No deep thoughts during my walk, I relaxed and watched and listened to the birds singing for the most part. Tomorrow we’ll see what storm one brings. Storm two is predicted for Friday, similar to what they are predicting for tomorrow, rain changing to snow and high winds.


I managed to finish work just in time, I could hear sleet hitting the windshield for the last three or four miles, that was calling it close. I don’t think that there was much freezing rain here, that seemed to have gone north of us, that was calling it close too. We did receive quite a bit of much-needed rain, and most of the snow that was on the ground is gone now. They have backed off from their predictions of 40 MPH winds this afternoon into evening, but it’s still going to get very breezy later on, and much colder than it is now. When I first got out of bed, it was looking like a day when I would leave the Nikon at home and just take the Canon, which I can keep in my pocket, since it was raining so hard. The rain has let up, I see some critters starting to move around out there, so it’s time to go!

The story of the first half of my walk was how dead it seemed around here, I guess I didn’t give the critters enough time to come out to play after the rain ended. I didn’t even see the geese who seem to have taken up residence at the center pond when I first stopped there. When I was checking out the long back pond, the geese flew over (of course I took a bad photo) and returned to the center pond. So much of wildlife photography is timing and luck. I would say that mine was a bit off today, but that isn’t totally true either, as you will see in a moment.

However, as I was walking along, most of the action seemed to be going on behind me. It seemed like every time I turned around, I would see birds flocking to where I had been. Except the swans, they seem to have left for good, I haven’t seen them in almost a week. I knew it was unlikely that they would nest here, but I was holding out hope. It would have been so cool to photograph the cygnets as they grew up.

Every thing changed when I got to the front of the complex, starting with this.


That’s my shoot quickly and at least get something photo, then I set out to get better ones. In the process of stalking the bluebirds, I walked right up on a flock of goldfinches feeding in one of the berry trees, and frightened them all away, when will I learn!

I did get somewhat closer to the bluebirds, they were feeding on sumac drupes.


Bluebird feeding on sumac drupes

The place was quickly coming alive with the sounds of many birds, some singing, some squabbling, some flying overhead. I got to one point and just started shooting photos, no matter how bad I knew that they would be, to show the number of how many species of birds I was trying to keep track of all at one time. Most of the photos came out as badly as I thought that they would, I’m not going to bother with them. I’ll tell you about it instead, you have, or will, see much better photos of them all anyway.

There was a pair of cardinals feeding on the ground under a pine to the left of me, two male cardinals singing from the tops of trees to my right, a red-tailed hawk flew by low over the woods in front of me, three mallards were circling the front pond to land, a flock of geese flew over in perfect “V” formation, the bluebirds were still feeding in the sumac behind me, the flock of goldfinches flew past me on their way back to the berries I had frightened them away from earlier, there was a pair of mallards in the creek to my extreme right, and there were tweety birds like this titmouse surrounding me.

Tufted titmouse

Just a typical day here at Byron Lakes Apartments and wildlife refuge! 🙂 I almost forgot a couple of things, one was hearing turkeys clucking in the distance, and the other thing is that last night near Lansing, I saw sandhill cranes, which has nothing to do with today’s walk, other than I had better be on the lookout for them around here as well. They often stop by during migration.

While it wasn’t as windy as they had predicted yesterday, the wind and the moisture from the rain and melting snow made it feel cooler than yesterday, even though the temperature was 10 degrees warmer. Now, the sun is out, but it’s time for work. I’d like to do another lap right now.


We got hit with the backside of the storm last night, more rain, more wind, then the snow. The ground was just covered in snow when I got home from work, this morning, it is gone again. Looks like a very nice day out there. I have been hearing turkeys being more vocal than normal, but I can’t see them from my windows. I’ve also heard a few geese fly by, and I can see the family of fox squirrels out looking for food across the way.

What can I say about the weather this winter? Earlier, November through January, it was fantastic for winter, February has been warm, but much more stormy. We get one or two nice days, then a storm, that while it lingers for several days, is never as bad as the meteorologists predict it will be. Most of February we have had snow on the ground, not much, but some. It will melt for a day, then another storm dumps just enough to cover the ground again.

On Friday, it is supposed to warm up in the morning, then another storm hits, with a cool weekend, with snow and wind, we’ll see. It is March 1st, which is the beginning of the spring according to meteorology, and spring by the calendar arrives in just a few short weeks, I’m ready.

As soon as I stepped outside, I could hear geese honking like crazy back in the new swamp that has formed behind my apartment. The ponds around here are ice-free, but the swamp is still mostly frozen over, just the edges have begun to thaw. From the sounds of it, there were quite a few geese back in there, the trouble with the new swamp is that I can’t see most of it. It is several acres in size, large enough for entire flocks of waterfowl to have been using it last fall. I am going to have to find some higher ground to get back in there to see what’s going on. I did shoot a few photos of the tweety birds on the edge of the swamp, like this downy woodpecker.

Male downy woodpecker

The ponds were quiet, the mallards and geese were busy doing what ducks and geese typically do, I did shoot this one as my action shot of the day.

Male mallard in flight

Gotta love mallards, they keep me in practice so when something special comes along, I’m ready for it, like the snowy owl from last weekend. One of the bloggers I follow, and I’m sorry, I don’t remember which one, wrote a little snippet about how if mallards weren’t so common, they would be considered one of the most beautiful species of birds that there is. That’s something I have also commented on in the past as well.

Today the male cardinals seemed more interested in staking out territories than in singing, they were chasing each other around quite a bit, although a few did take some time out to sing. I noted in the past that the cardinals seemed to feed on the flats near the creeks that had been flooded at one time, but were exposed during times of lower flow in the creeks. Since I noticed that, the flats were covered in snow most of the time, but they were flooded with the rain from this last storm, so it will be interesting to see if the cardinals go back to feeding on the flats again. They may be too busy with mating season right now.

I find myself preoccupied today, and not able to stay focused on this, so I’m going to call today’s entry done, and move on to Friday.

That didn’t last long, I started reading the local news, and the first story I came to was that the State of Michigan is going to begin culling mute swans. The story doesn’t say how, just that they are going to try to reduce the mute swan population in order to allow the native trumpeter swans fill the void. I understand why it is going to happen, I even support the fact that it is going to happen, but still, it saddens me. Mute swans may be an introduced invasive species, but they are beautiful birds however they arrived here. I know their aggressive behavior and tendency to “overgraze” aquatic vegetation where their numbers become large enough is a threat, not only to trumpeter swans, but all waterfowl and even other species that depend on aquatic vegetation for survival.

There are now over 15,000 mute swans living in Michigan, and they are tripling their population every 5 years, so something has to be done to control them.

It’s funny how times change. Jack Elliot just posted an entry on his blog about a very old newspaper account of two men risking their lives to steal eggs from condor nests in California back in 1899. Twenty something years ago, a pair of mute swans, which were rare at the time, made their home in a small lake near where my ex and I lived. Some one shot those swans, and law enforcement and the DNR went after the swans’ killers. Now, the DNR is going to begin killing mute swans in order to control their population.

It would be nice if we could stop meddling with nature and just let it be, but we’ve screwed things up so badly in the past that we have to keep meddling. I guess it’s no different from deer hunting, I think whitetail deer are beautiful creatures, and I killed a few of them myself back in the day. I don’t regret that, even though I have decided to no longer hunt. I know that if hunters don’t keep the deer herd in check, starvation and a devastation of the habitat the deer live in would occur. There are places in Michigan where the deer yard up in the winter that every bit of vegetation for as high as deer can reach is stripped from the trees and bushes, and the deer are reduced to eating the bark from the trees. That kills the trees eventually, and the result is even less food for the deer.

We like to think that nature just hums along smoothly if man doesn’t stick his nose in it to mess it up, but that isn’t the truth at all. Wildlife populations go through boom and bust cycles all the time, even if man doesn’t play a hand in it. They are seeing that on Isle Royal with the moose and wolves. When the moose herd increases, so does the number of wolves, until the number of moose killed by the wolves leaves the wolves short of food, then their numbers decline, and the cycle begins again.

The snowy owl I photographed last weekend is here in West Michigan for the same reason. A good year meant a huge spike in the population of lemming the owls feed on, which caused a spike in the owl population. Increased numbers of owls and a hard winter resulted in fewer lemmings, so the snowy owls have migrated south looking for food.

Then there are species whose populations run in cycles for no apparent reason, such as the ruffed grouse. Biologists have known for decades the ruffed grouse populations go through 8 to 11 year cycles of increasing and decreasing numbers. The cycle has puzzled scientists for years, and is simply referred to as the “grouse cycle.”

Got off on a tangent there, didn’t I? The Michigan DNR wants to reduce the mute swan population down to 2,000 or so, that seems like a pretty dramatic reduction. If the trumpeter swan population increases to fill the void, then it will be a good thing. Now, on to Friday.


We’re supposed to get a storm this afternoon, rain changing to snow, with winds as high as 50 MPH, the National Weather Service has even issued a high wind watch. Where does one go to watch high winds? 🙂

The other story this week has been the clouds, it has been a much more normal winter week here in that regard. Just a peek at the sun on occasion. The constant cloud cover has severely limited the photos I have taken. So it is again today, very dark and dreary out there in advance of the approaching storm.

The male cardinals are still chasing each other around as they stake out their territories for the mating season, I’ve been watching a few of them through the window this morning as I have been drinking my coffee. I wonder if the females choose their mates based on his singing ability, or if they choose based on the territory the male has claimed as his? My guess is that any male would do for the females as long as the male has staked out a territory to the female’s liking.

I’m back from my walk, and I want to use an expletive to sum up my feelings about the clouds today! You’ll see why in a few.

It was dark and dreary, with a stiff east wind ahead of the even stronger west wind that is supposed to kick in later, along with a few occasional rain drops just to make me keep the camera inside my parka. I started out taking a photo of a turkey at rest, just to shoot something.

Turkey resting in the woods

What do you call it as far as turkeys sleeping on the ground? I don’t think roosting is the right word, that implies to me that they are up in a tree. I thought it strange that I saw one turkey all alone, they are almost always in a flock.

I got back to the back pond, and there weren’t even any mallards there. I wonder what’s going on there, that pond used to be the most reliable one for seeing waterfowl of all types, but it has been almost barren of any wildlife all this winter. Hmmm.

The wildlife around here seems to be transitioning from winter behavior to spring, the flocks of birds are breaking up as they pair off to begin nest-building. The doves are already on the nests, and the other resident birds are right behind them.

More migratory birds showed up today for the first time, the red-winged blackbirds, a sure sign of spring I tried to get some photos, but with the weather the way it was, this is the best I could do.


Red-winged blackbird

Then the event happened that has me cursing the clouds today! I looked up to see a very large bird soaring in my direction.

Large soaring bird, but what is it?

You can see that it is just above the treetops, my first thought was that it was a turkey vulture, but it didn’t look like a turkey vulture. That’s another reason I take so many photos of birds in flight, even when I know they are not going to turn out well, to help me identify what species they are at a distance.  You can see that the wings of this bird are about flat across the top of its body, the wings of a turkey vulture rise from their body in a wide “V” before flattening out. That had me thinking it was an eagle, as that’s the way an eagle’s wings look in flight. But, I couldn’t see white on either its head or tail. What could it be?

I kept watching, and shooting, it was an immature bald eagle!

Immature bald eagle in flight

The eagle saw me, turned straight towards me, and gave me the photo-op of a lifetime, except for the clouds.

Immature bald eagle in flight

That’s un-cropped, shot with my 70 to 300 mm lens, the eagle was less than 40 feet directly overhead, and it looks almost like a crow due to the exposure. (Insert string of expletives here!) I have a few others that show the eagle banking in towards me, but that one is the eagle at its closest to me, and since they all look like crap, there’s no reason to post them.

That’s the closest I have ever been to an eagle, and it happened right outside my apartment. Maybe it will find a mate and build a nest around here! It would be a good place for eagles, there are many small lakes and ponds in the area, and we’re only a few miles from the Grand River, within easy soaring distance of a hunting eagle.

Some one stopped today while I was walking and asked about my blog, they had heard about it from some one else here. I explained a little about my blog and the wildlife I see and photograph around home here, and they were amazed. And, that was before the eagle. Just another typical day here at the Byron Lakes Apartments and wildlife refuge. 😉 I am so lucky to have found this place. No, I don’t work for Edward Rose & Sons, the company that owns this apartment complex, just for the record. But, I have started calling this place a wildlife refuge because of all the wildlife that I see here, and because some one asked my brother if I lived on a wildlife refuge as my brother was looking at the pictures I post on Facebook.

I was thinking to myself half jokingly that I should start looking for a snowy owl around here, then I remembered that early in the winter, one of the snowy owls was seen near here. Who knows what will turn up next around here, I guess we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find that out.


Well, the storm has hit, and Mariah is still singing. Not as loudly as last night, thankfully, but I can still hear her out there.

We had a line of thunderstorms go through yesterday afternoon, nothing like the ones that caused all the devastation just a couple of hundred miles south of here. Neither are we getting the snowstorm that is passing by just a couple of counties to the north of here.

I spent the night at work wrestling with the steering wheel of the truck, trying to keep it on the road, some of the gusts were very potent and wanted to push the truck to places I didn’t want the truck to go. Somewhere around 10 PM the rain changed to snow, and it looked like it was going to get bad, but the temperatures were high enough that the snow didn’t stick.

That’s about the way it is outside right now. It’s snowing, with the snow moving horizontally more than vertically, the ground is just covered in white, the snow is melting at about the same rate as it is falling. If I had any sense, I’d stay inside and do some major spring housekeeping since the forecast for the weekend is more of the same, wind, snow, and cold. But, since I have no sense, I’ll be venturing out shortly, I think I need another cup of coffee first though. I have been watching the squirrels and turkeys outside, wondering what it is like in their world. Do they know that spring is on its way?

That’s one of the reasons I do go for a walk everyday, to watch the animals. They don’t have weather forecasts, neither do they have the luxury of sitting inside a cozy apartment and watching the world through a pane of glass. To them, the weather is what it is, and it is something that simply has to be dealt with, no matter what it is like. But I wonder, do they know that spring is coming?

For some of the animals, their hormones have them all worked up for mating season, it’s that time of year, so that they can raise their young over the warm summer months so the young have the best chance of survival, but do they know spring is coming, or do they only know what their hormones tell them?

Time, the passing of the seasons, and our perspective of time, such a deep subject for so early in the day. We humans tend to view the world in the here and now, we have a difficult time fathoming that what are now low rocky hills were once part of the tallest mountains to have existed on this planet. We see a natural feature such as the Grand Canyon, and our minds have a hard time grasping the fact that over millions of years, trillions of grains of sand carried by moving river waters slowly cut their way down through rock to form that feature.

Looking out at the critters, many of them weren’t even around last spring, they were born last summer. Sadly, more than a few won’t be around to see next spring arrive. We humans can expect to live seven or eight decades, the average animal is lucky to survive seven or eight years, how would we view the world if our lives were that short? Do animals even have a memory of their past, and do they look to the future?

Do they know spring is coming? I guess I had better go out there and ask them.

Well, I asked around, but I couldn’t find any critters who would take the time to have that conversation this morning. I asked the sharp shinned hawk, but it was too busy looking for the mallard meal some one had stolen from it.

Sharp shinned hawk

I asked the mallards, but they were otherwise occupied.

Mallards mating

I asked the squirrels, but they were too busy eating.

Fox squirrel eating crab apples

I asked some of the other mallards around here, but they were so upset over the loss of one of the flock that they couldn’t speak.


I guess I will have to keep trying, on a better day.

For the record, it was cold, snowy, and very windy today. I spotted the hawk right at the corner where I turn to get to my apartment, and that story will be a separate post here.

For more pictures of the cute squirrel stuffing itself with crab apples, they are what I used for the Weekly Photo Challenge here.

And, there will be more photos of the mating mallards in another post as well. Sorry to do it that way, but it was a great day as far as the photos I got, even though it wouldn’t seem like it would be from the weather. And, I guess that in a way answers my question as to whether the animals know if spring is coming. Even if they do know, they are too busy staying alive on a day-to-day basis to pay very much attention to what the future holds for them.

That brings us to the end of this week, it hasn’t really been cold, the big story all week has been stiff winds making it feel much colder than it really was. Next week the warm-up is forecast to begin, and I’m sure I’ll end up with photos of the critters enjoying the warmer temps. The swans appear to be gone for good, but there was a pair of ring-necked ducks in the long back pond today.

Ring-necked duck

The back pond still only has one pair of mallards, that’s hard to believe, since that pond used to have the most wildlife in and around it. The bluebirds and red-winged blackbirds have shown up for the spring and summer, so all is well.

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

8 responses

  1. Hey eagles, keep fingers crossed for a mate and local nest! Great shots for the week, even with the the bad weather.

    Mute swans – Maryland DNR has been eliminating them on the bay for several years now, and I too understand why, but it is sad. It is now getting more rare to see a mute swan or two any where when we go out boating. Our community use to watch a pair alongside our marshy inlet, they strolled alot back and forth past our osprey nest, but they too just disappeared, one one day then the other a week later. Never did find out what happened to them but we all kinda felt like we knew. 😦


    March 6, 2012 at 10:49 pm

  2. Great photos- I especially liked the turkey images. Those guys are really trying to impress the ladies! The bluebird on the sumac was a excellent shot as well- the colors were a nice combination. You had a very productive week!


    March 5, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    • Thank you! I have the enviable problem of being too productive at times. The wildlife here is going crazy with the approach of spring.


      March 6, 2012 at 10:23 am

  3. Pingback: Announcing the new Mickey D’s McMallard Meal « Quietsolopursuits's Blog

  4. Northern Narratives

    Wow, you have bluebirds already?


    March 4, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    • Yes, and they’re sticking around this time. There have been small flocks through here all winter.


      March 4, 2012 at 5:14 pm

  5. I remember the song “They Call the Wind Mariah” but couldn’t remember what movie it was in. Turns out it was “Paint Your Wagon” with Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin in 1969. Before that it was a Brodway play in 1951. But really interesting is that in the 1939 book “Storm” author George Rippey Stewart named his storm Maria. That led to U.S. military meteorologists giving women’s names to storms, which they still do today. Who knew?


    March 4, 2012 at 10:05 am

    • Thanks for looking that all up. I knew some of it, but was too lazy to confirm my foggy memory.


      March 4, 2012 at 10:40 am