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

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!

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10 responses

  1. Nice images! 🙂

    March 17, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    • Thanks Mike!

      March 17, 2012 at 9:41 pm

  2. That orange sunrise is excellent and I wish I’d had it for the “In the Gloaming” post I did.
    I always thought worms crawled onto pavement when the soil was too wet, but I’ve never heard why the birds don’t scoop them up.
    I like that hawk portrait. Your shots seem to keep getting better and better with each post, and it’s a fun thing to watch.
    The land conservancy using one of your pictures is great!
    I’m with you on the early heat. Ugh. We’re supposed to see 70s and 80s this week.
    Thanks for some great photos!

    March 17, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    • Thank you! As much as I love the wildlife photography that I am able to do right here where I live, I wish I could do more photos like the sunrise. It’s seldom that I can find a suitable background for them though, with all the buildings around me.

      March 17, 2012 at 9:44 pm

  3. Northern Narratives

    I like the song sparrow against the green, No green here yet, we still have bits and pieces of snow.

    March 17, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    • Thank you! My laziness paid off for a change. The sparrows were in the dead grasses and weeds to begin with, I shot a few photos that I knew I wouldn’t be happy with, then just stood there to take a break. While I was standing there, the sparrows moved to the greenery, and I was able to get some good shots of them. I don’t think your bits and pieces of snow are going to last much longer, unless you’re on the cold side of the air mass over me. Predicted highs around 80 for the next four days.

      March 18, 2012 at 10:19 am

  4. Your mute swan at sunrise is so very beautiful! 🙂

    March 18, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    • Thank you, Zelmare!

      March 18, 2012 at 8:19 pm

  5. Fantastic week! Love the mallards in flight, perfect timing. And the closeup of the hawk, nice. 🙂

    March 18, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    • Thank you, I was looking forward to an update on Olivia and Oliver, any news?

      March 20, 2012 at 3:47 am