My Week…the scent of spring
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 April 1 to April 7, 2012
Another morning of waiting for the sun to break through the clouds. That’s OK, today is going to start out as a cooking day for me anyway. One day each weekend, I cook up everything for the following week and beyond, throw all the pots and pans in the dishwasher, the only time I ever run it. The hardest thing I have found about living alone is how not to waste food. I think that I am finally getting it down to a science.
Breakfast is done, the kitchen is all cleaned up, and I’m ready to go, it’s noon, but still no sun. I’m watching the turkeys in the woods across from my apartment, thinking that sun or no sun, it’s time to go!
Good thing that I didn’t wait for the sun to show, I’d still be waiting. I was hoping for a repeat of yesterday when the sun at least came out for a while, but that didn’t happen today. The weather reports were for a fairly nice weekend, I even thought about getting my kayak out, and either floating the Grand River, or doing a swamp over by Cascade. I’m glad I didn’t, as the weekend weather wasn’t at all what was predicted.
It wouldn’t have been a bad day, but it was gloomy today, with a hint of fog in the air most of the day. When the sun did try to peek through the clouds a couple of times, all it did was make the haze from the fog brighter, a horrible day for photography.
I did one lap, then came back to my apartment for a break, and to read the latest newsletter from the Little Traverse Conservancy, then headed out for lap two.
A number of wood ducks were back in the new swamp, I got one really bad photo, I’m not even going to post it. It’s pretty cool that they are there though, I need to find a way back in there, but that’s going to be really hard. I almost got out my knee-high mud boots to go back in the swamp for lap two, but since the wood ducks have just shown up, I don’t want to pressure them at all, maybe a pair or two will nest here!
On lap one, nothing but a lone male mallard in the back pond, his mate could be nesting in the brush around the pond and I would never see her unless I went looking for her, and I’m not going to do that.
At the long back pond, Mother Goose wasn’t on the nest. I didn’t see either of the geese…at first. I took a few steps closer to see if I could see into the nest, and the geese rounded the corner of the building just as I did. The gander went into attack mode, I retreated!
The mallards are everywhere, and I do mean everywhere!
There was another pair sleeping under a vehicle earlier that I didn’t photograph.
Despite the gloomy weather, I did get another excellent shot of a chickadee.
Such a little bird, such a big voice!
The front and center ponds had there now usual complement of a pair of geese and a few stray male mallards. At the front creek, I did manage this shot of a mourning dove that was getting a drink.
And, I got a bad shot of a cottontail rabbit in the brush along the creek.
The bunnies are getting hard to photograph around here, I used to find them out on the lawn quite often, now, they are staying in the brush most of the time. I think that the presence of more predators has forced the rabbits to stick to cover more, along with changing the habits of some of the birds.
On lap two, I went to the backside of the long back pond, and sure enough, that area is crisscrossed with game trails. I have been back there a couple of times in the past, it’s hard to get around back there because of how thick the brush is. The game trails I found are almost like tunnels through the brush. I didn’t do much scouting back there, I was getting coated with sticktites, and shredded by the brambles. I didn’t find any tracks or scat to help me identify what’s making the trails, I may have to keep going back there, building a path for myself as I do.
Also on lap two, I approached the back pond from the opposite side I normally do, that may not have been a good idea, there’s no cover there. I was just thinking to myself how tricky it was to spot any wildlife in that pond from the direction I was approaching it, when I saw the head of a great blue heron. Of course it saw me at the same time, I fumbled with my camera, and this was the best shot I got of it.
I did everything wrong, and I know better! It was good to see one back here again. I don’t know where my head was at today, well, yes I do.
Next weekend, I’m taking a trip, someplace. I don’t get bored watching the wildlife here, I stood in one spot watching six chickadees squawking and playing around for several minutes today. Things like that always draw my attention wherever I am. But I could use a change of scenery, and not a county park filled with trash either, so one way or another, next weekend is going to be a road trip. Maybe I’ll go to Muskegon and try to track down some eagles and kestrels, or if the weather is really nice, a kayaking trip in Ludington State Park before it gets so crowded I won’t like it.
I think that’s it for today, on to Monday, which is supposed to be a nicer day.
Another work week begins, and nice weather returns. Isn’t that the way it always seems to go. There seems to be a pattern here, I go out on Monday and shoot the best photos of the week on the day when I have the least time to sort through them and work on my blog, as I visit my mother in a nursing home on Monday.
So it went today, the birds were putting on some awesome displays of flying ability, as they often do, but today for a change, there was enough sunlight to get photos. I would have taken even more photos than I did, but the wind was strong enough that I couldn’t get shots of flowers, or even some birds that were perched. I think I’ll save a lot of the ones I did take for another post I’m working on, and only include a few here.
My walk started out great, I was watching the mating dance of flickers at the end of the street I live on. I took some photos, but neither of my cameras seem to focus in on flickers, so the shots I got are worthless, better luck next time. The flickers were on the lawn at the edge of the new swamp, and I was trying to watch them do their courting rituals at the same time as I was looking for wood ducks in the swamp nearby. I couldn’t see any wood ducks today, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still there. I can see very little of the new swamp, and how much I can see gets smaller everyday as the trees leaf out. In a couple of more weeks, I won’t even be able to see the swamp without entering the woods surrounding it.
At the back pond, nothing but the lone male mallard that’s always there. So, I headed for the long back pond, watching a pair of kingfishers go from pond to pond to pond, chattering away as they went. I had almost made it to the long back pond, when I saw a great blue heron headed towards the back pond from the east. I watched as the heron appeared to glide down into the pond, and turned around to head back there. As I was getting close to the pond, I saw a heron glide in to the pond from the north, I assumed it was the same heron, that it had circled the pond before landing, and that my view had been blocked by the trees as it did so.
As if I needed that, due to a computer glitch of some kind, I just lost nearly 1,000 words I had typed.
Anyway, as I got close enough to the pond to see the water, I saw a pair of geese at the far end of the pond. Now where did they come from? They weren’t there a few minutes ago when I was there. I crept up towards the pond, scanning around the edges of as much of it as I could see with each step, looking for the heron, and spotted it in a tough, but not impossible place to sneak up close to it. I watched it catch and swallow a fish, but out of camera range. I kept watching to see which direction it was hunting in so I could plan my approach. It was then that the geese started honking, why, I have no idea, but they did. It was then that I saw a second heron, very close to me, pop its head up above the brush, and spotted me instantly. Not good! I tried to inch back away from the pond, but no luck, the heron took off, followed closely by the other one that I had been watching. Stupid geese!
Having forgiven geese for messing up my last photo-op, I checked the long back pond to find Mother Goose on her nest, Father Goose standing guard, and a few stray male mallards.
One of my biggest “problems” here is a very enviable one, two much wildlife packed into a small area. Just like the geese and herons in the back pond, something similar happened as I approached the front pond. I was watching a robin perched very close to me, letting it get used to my presence, there was a house finch singing from another tree close by, there were three geese and a few mallards in the pond, when I noticed the shadow of a larger bird pass by me. I looked up to see one of the sharp shinned hawks soaring overhead, but I was nearly blinded by the sun. When I raised my hand to block the sun to watch the sharpie, it spooked the robin, darn. OK, I’ll get a shot of the finch, but as I was in almost the perfect spot for a shot, I found myself in the street, with a car coming. When I stepped up on the sidewalk, I spooked the finch, darn. Oh, and the shots I did get of the sharpie aren’t that good either, darn. I did get shots of the geese and mallards, like I really need any more of those, darn.
And a couple more photos from today, a robin gathering nesting material.
A red winged blackbird.
And a male northern cardinal.
It was good to see that the back pond is getting active again after months of nothing, other than that, not a lot to report, since I don’t have much time today. On to Tuesday.
I woke up to thunder and lightning this morning, along with some heavy rain. I tried to roll over and go back to sleep, it didn’t work today like it did last week. I am just finishing my coffee, the rain has ended, and I can see blue skies and the sun breaking through the clouds, so it’s time to get going.
What a great day! It started off cool and damp after the thunder showers, cool enough that I could see my breath. By the time I finished my walk, I had shed my jacket.
When I stepped out the door, the birds were going crazy, even more crazy than normal. All that pent-up activity that had been on hold during the rain. And it did rain, the creeks are high and muddy, and the water in the ponds was rising as well.
As I approached the first creek, I saw a heron winging its way up the creek. I may have spooked it, I didn’t think I was that close to the creek, but who knows. The heron landed farther up the creek, there was a great shot there if I could have gotten the lighting and the framing just right, but this was the best I could do.
And a closer view of the heron.
I thought about chasing the heron around for a while, but decided against it. They’re back, so there will be plenty of opportunities for heron shots.
Not much going on at any of the ponds until I got to the front one, and I’ll get to that later. However, I happened to look up after checking to see that Mother Goose was still on her nest, she was, and I saw this small flock of what I am fairly certain were double crested cormorants.
That’s one of the reasons I study birds in flight, to help me identify birds at a distance. When I saw these, at first I had no idea what they were. Their manner of flight was duck-like, but they weren’t mallards or any other species of duck that drop in from time to time. They were too big, and their tails too long to be ducks. But, they flew with quick wing beats like ducks have, not the slow, almost languid wing beats of the wading birds like herons, cranes, or egrets. So between their manner of flight and viewing them using my camera zoomed in all the way, I decided that they were cormorants. I wouldn’t be surprised to find one fishing in one of the ponds here with as many and as large of fish as there are in the ponds.
Now, for the front pond story. As I was getting close to it, I saw the geese that have been hanging out there, but they appeared agitated for some reason. I had been hearing geese in some of the other ponds honking, and soon the pair in the front pond joined in.
Animal communication fascinates me, and the more I figure it out, the more I am convinced that animals communicate more and in different ways than we know. Living here with all the small ponds in the area, I am convinced that the geese talk to each other in the different ponds in the way they honk. There’s a pair of geese in every pond here except the back pond, and I can tell there are pairs at many of the other ponds as well. What all their honks mean, I’m not sure yet, but the more I hear them, the more differences in their honks I am able to detect. I think that today, the honking was to call the extended flock together to go out for food somewhere. I stood there for a while listening to the honking growing in intensity, and soon the pair I was watching took flight. Like a dummy, I had allowed myself to get distracted while I was waiting, so this is the best shot of one of the geese taking off that I got.
Where they went, I couldn’t see, but it sounded like a number of geese joined up in a flock and flew off somewhere else, perhaps some farmer’s field.
There is a pair of kingfishers that have made a home in the area for the first time this spring. I have seen kingfishers from time to time here in past years, but I see, and hear, a pair everyday now since I first spotted one in the back pond. I can hear them chattering away as they go from pond to pond, and from spot to spot along the creeks to fish. Hopefully I’ll get some good shots of them this summer.
The dogwood has begun to bloom.
The red-tailed hawk flew past.
Actually, it flew past me several times, but I won’t bore you with any more of those shots….today.
I found a chickadee trying to carry an entire tree to use as nesting material.
Since I made fun of him, I’ll post a nice picture.
The male goldfinches are finally starting to turn bright yellow.
And I got a few shots that are so-so of a northern flicker, here’s one.
There are a few species of birds that I seem to have a very hard time getting a good shot of, flickers are one, brown creepers are another that comes to mind. Yesterday I watched two flickers courting, and not one of the photos I took came out very well at all. I’ll keep trying though. 🙂
I think that’s about it for today. The rest of this week until Sunday is predicted to be fantastic weather. Very cool mornings, lots of sun, and pleasant high temperatures, we’ll see. On to Wednesday.
I spent way too much time taking photos today, and what a day for photos it was! I hadn’t even gotten to the end of the street I live on before I heard the chattering call of a kingfisher overhead.
I knew that photo didn’t come out as well as I would have liked, and I missed what would have been even a better one. I was kicking myself about that when red-tailed hawk number one flew over following the kingfisher!
I knew that shot hadn’t come out well either, and was really kicking myself when hawk number two showed up follow the other two birds.
The kingfisher survived, and the two hawks then put on a spectacular aerial display for me.
I would have gotten more shots, and better shots, but just as in the first two bad shots from today, I was having trouble with the auto-focus of my camera. When I track one bird in flight and another bird enters the frame, the auto-focus goes crazy for a second, causing me to miss some shots, and it seems to always happen just as the birds get as close together as they do.
OK, back to the beginning, the weather, perfect. Cool and crisp to start, and it warmed up enough for me to shed my light jacket by the time I was about done.
Life around the ponds has settled into a routine, so I probably won’t mention them much any more unless something out of the ordinary happens. The flowering trees and bushes are right on the cusp of putting on a fantastic display of color. It won’t be long and you’ll all be tired of the flower shots I post.
I said I spent too much time taking photos, so here are a few, starting with a bad shot of an eastern phoebe.
A house finch.
A few of male northern cardinals.
And here’s one of a dark eyed junco which you can barely make out, but I like the overall setting, the junco only adds a little more interest to it.
It was a rough day for the kingfishers, I missed a shot of one of them being harassed by a sparrow, and why would a sparrow chase a kingfisher? Needless to say, the sparrow didn’t succeed any better than the hawk had earlier in making a kill, although the sparrow seemed to be making more of an effort than the hawks had. It surprised me that a sparrow could even keep up with a kingfisher, let alone attack it repeatedly in flight. I sure wish I had gotten that one!
I know that there was more I wanted to say about yesterday, but I ran out of time to finish this entry, and I worked late last night, so I didn’t have the time then. It is Thursday already!
Another beautiful day out there today! I have been watching a robin build her nest under the carport across from me, listening to turkeys in the distance, and an occasional goose flying past, so it is time to get moving.
Well, I did it again. I spent way too much time taking photos, so I don’t have a lot of time to work on this entry. I guess that goes with the territory, both figuratively and literally. So much wildlife to shoot around here, like this morning, I step off the stoop, and shoot this.
There were several other deer with this one, but they stayed back in the brush. I did make a half–hearted attempt to find them, but I was too distracted by other things going on. That’s a constant “problem” I have here, and only I would call it a problem.
Anyway, the only way to get better photos of wildlife I already have photos of is to take more photos. I did try to cut back, especially of birds in flight, but I found that I have to take many photos to get a few good ones. The slightest turn, or twist changes the way light strikes a moving target so much, and critter’s movements are so erratic, that I find it impossible to sit back and wait to snap a few at exactly the right time.
So, today I ended up with 165 pictures to sort through, of those, 44 made it to my Facebook page. Both the red-tailed and sharp shinned hawks made multiple appearances, so I ended up with a lot of junk to weed out. This is the only one I really like out of the entire bunch.
The number of photos I took would have been much higher, but the wind was so strong that it made close-ups of most flowers impossible, they were moving too much. I did get this one of phlox though.
I know I should look up the exact species, but right now, I don’t have the time.
Back when I was wondering why there were very few birds using the back pond, I questioned whether bird’s sense of smell is good enough for them to detect the presence of predators by scent alone. Since then, the thought has struck me, do birds use their sense of smell in mating? In some species, the males and females are easily identified by sight, but what about all those species where males and females look, to us anyway, to be identical. With the swans and geese for example, they only way I can tell the males from the females is in their behavior. How do they tell the difference?
I can’t recall ever reading anything about that, maybe scientists have looked into it and I just haven’t stumbled across that information yet. But whenever I have heard any discussion as to how birds tell each other apart, the answer has always been they do, some how. That the birds must be able to see well enough to tell each other apart, implying that the differences is too subtle for our eyes. But what if the birds don’t rely on vision alone?
Anyway, another thought I had today is the behavioral patterns of birds as far as time. This last week, there has been a phoebe singing from the branches of a large maple tree every morning as I begin my walk. I managed a few bad photos of the phoebe, the spots it chooses to sing from are not well lighted at the time when I begin my walk. I was going to fool it today, and try to sneak up on it as I finished my walk and the lighting would be better. No go, the phoebe wasn’t there at that time.
I have noticed before that there wouldn’t be any of the males of a species singing at some point in my walks, but when I would hear one start, it seems like within a few minutes, I would be hearing many of them singing. It also seems as though different species have different times of the day that the males set aside for singing. Of course, morning and evenings are always a good time, but during the day, the singing comes in bursts of activity. That makes me wonder if it has to do with time, or that one male starts for whatever reason, and the rest then sing as well, hoping that their song will be the one that attracts the females.
I’m out of time again, I will try to work on this some more after work, but tonight is grocery shopping night, so I’ll be getting home late again.
I didn’t have time to work on this last nigh, I could use an assistant. 🙂
So much to report, so little time. First, from the news, the Michigan DNR is reducing the daily fee at State Forest Campgrounds $2 a night, from $15 to $13. Reducing the daily fee is something I have been advocating for some time now, this is a start, but I think they should have reduced the fee down to an even $10 a night to make it more affordable to more people. At least the DNR seems to be moving in the right direction.
Also in the news, the DNR is going to stop planting coho salmon in the Grand River at Lansing, Michigan, and plant the fish that would normally be planted there farther downstream, including the Rogue River, which feeds into the Grand. I am not going to go into detail, as it will have no importance to most people who read my blog, but it makes sense. The percentage of salmon planted in Lansing that returned to spawn was less than 1%, making those plantings a complete waste of money. Well, maybe not a complete waste, the fingerling salmon planted in Lansing helped to feed the pike and bass that live in the impoundments on the Grand between Lansing and Grand Rapids. Since it cost the DNR $1.26 to raise each salmon to the size at which they are planted, getting a better return than 1% makes sense. There will probably be more salmon making it to Lansing even though the fish are released downstream, since salmon will continue upstream if they can.
Next up, breaking news and a Quiet Solo Pursuits exclusive! Earlier this week I wrote about trying to get a photo of a phoebe that perches in a large maple tree across from my apartment. Sometime during the night, one of the large limbs from that maple tree broke off, and is laying on the ground. I have watched as one of the resident fox squirrels spent some time wondering what the heck had happened to its habitat, and just a few minutes ago, the phoebe perched on of the branches sticking up from the downed limb to do its singing for the morning.
Ok, so a limb falling off from a tree is hardly earth shattering news, unless you’re a critter that uses that limb on a daily basis for what ever reason. I always find it interesting to watch how wildlife reacts to such things. In some ways, nature seems very static, except for the changes in season, but that’s because of the way we humans view nature. Things are always changing, even in an apartment complex like where I live. The tree that the red-tailed hawks used to hunt from has fallen, a new swamp has formed back behind my building, and last night, the limb fell off the maple tree.
Nature is never static, things are always changing, but most of the time, we fail to see the way that things change, or we assume that the changes are of no consequence, but all changes have consequences, even small changes like a limb falling from an old maple tree. Boy, would I love to go on at length about the way the modern environmentalists seem to want to freeze nature in place the way that it is when they first see it, but I don’t have the time now. I have a walk to do, so off I go!
I really over did it on the photos today! I was out there almost an hour longer than normal, and took almost 200 pictures. Many didn’t come out that well, the wildlife was presenting me with many different types of photo opportunities, and I wasn’t able to take advantage of many of them. By the time I have sorted through them, I posted 70 to my Facebook page, and have no time left for this, other than what I have just written. So, I will try to work on this tonight when I get home. Tomorrow morning is supposed to be a repeat of today weather wise, so I may not finish this until Sunday.
It’s now Saturday morning as I try to get caught up, and I am going to be kicking myself for not having gone someplace today, the weather is as close to perfect as it gets.
Anyway, about yesterday, I checked on Mother Goose at the long back pond, she’s still on the nest, looking bored and lonely. I would hate to be stuck there in one spot for a month, I’m sure glad that I’m not a bird! The reason I mentioned that is because Father Goose is still standing guard, and he appears to be getting more nervous with each passing day. I don’t know if he has had to fend off perceived threats to his mate and her nest, or if the stress of being an expectant father is getting to him. When I spotted him, I wasn’t that close to him, and I was on the other end of the building from Mother Goose, but he immediately went into his defend the nest mode. I also noticed once again, that he appeared to be sniffing the air, as if trying to identify me. I shot a photo of him, just because he’s such a handsome fellow, it’s easy to see why Mother Goose chose him for a mate.
At the center pond, the geese were feeding like ducks do, tipping down to feed on aquatic vegetation, which is somewhat unusual for geese, at least from what I’ve seen.
I don’t know why, but the lighting was strange there yesterday, I took a number of shots of the geese because they looked different under that lighting than they normally do, but I’m not happy with the way the photos turned out. But of all the photos I have of geese, which is quite a few, those are the only ones I have of them feeding in the same manner as puddle ducks. Maybe these geese have been hanging around the mallards for too long.
At the second crossing of the main creek flowing through here, there were two male cardinals chasing each other around through the brush growing along the creek, and every once in a while they wold get out in the open enough for me to get a photo, sort of.
That was the best of the lot, and it’s still hard to see the cardinals. You can click on the photo for a larger view if you like.
That was a tough “assignment”! Cardinals may appear to be relatively slow in flight when they are flying from place to place, but when there’s two of them chasing each other through the brush, it’s hard to keep up with them. They put on an amazing display of flying ability as they zig-zagged through the brush!
They sure can fly! The speed at which they go charging through brush that looks as if it is too thick for them to make it through as incredible!
This isn’t about only birds, there are many flowers blooming as well, so I am going to throw in a couple of photos of them…
…and finish today’s entry by noting how great it is to be able to smell the flowers again! With the great weather we’ve had, and the air filled with the scent of spring flowers, the sounds of birds singing, it is great to be alive! Time to get out there and enjoy my favorite time of the year. On to Saturday.
As I finished up from yesterday, it has been hard to stay focused, for every time I look out the window, there’s something going on out there. The phoebe has been feeding and singing, the squirrels are checking out the fallen maple limb, birds flying over, bright blue skies, and gorgeous sunshine, so it’s time to get out there!
I was out there, boy was I out there. I set a new one day record for the number of photos I have taken here in one day, 322, yikes! I managed to whittle that number down to 130 for my Facebook page, spring flowers and birds, it’s a wonder I came back in at all. Oh, that’s right, it’s getting dark outside.
One reason that I shot so many photos is that I have decided to post at least a good picture of every species of bird, mammal, reptile, and amphibian that I have seen around the apartment complex. It’s a staggering number, I’m sure. Rather than dig back through all the photos stored on my computer, I think it will be quicker and easier to take new photos of the more common species, so I was doing that today.
That also means that if I am going to do all the species around here, I have to take photos of the species I don’t normally photograph, like this English starling.
I would rather I hadn’t done that (forgive me dad, for I have sinned), but an accurate count is an accurate count.
Nothing really specific to today happened while I was out doing the two laps that I did, although I should include one story. A great blue heron was in the back pond, and I took great pains to circle the long way around the pond, and was very carefully approaching the spot where I knew I would get photos of it as I was sneaking on the backside of the small berm around the pond. When I got almost to the spot where I was going to poke my head over the berm to start photographing the heron, I caught the motion of beating wings out of the corner of my eye, it was a kingfisher hovering over the pond at almost eye level to me, and as close to me as it could get and still be over the pond. I think you can guess what happened.
Just as I got my camera on the kingfisher, it started a dive for a fish, and I tried to track it on its way down, but lost sight of it. I must have taken a step or two forward without thinking about it, I did catch the kingfisher just after it exited the water with a minnow in its beak.
Somewhere during that time, I spooked the heron, and off it went. I did get some bad shots of it in flight, I will be doing better later. However, the long careful approach I was making was lost, and all I got was that so-so photo of the kingfisher.
The other thing I need to say before I wrap this up is that we’ve had some very cool mornings, with frost and freeze warnings posted. We must have had at least one light freeze here, as many of the early flowers look as if they have suffered frost damage. The overall displays are awesome, but when I try to zoom in on any one flower, it looks frost damaged.
Some of the lilac buds look as though they were frozen to the point where they are dead, but there are enough healthy ones opening up to make it smell heavenly around here. There have been several times the last two or three days when I have just stood in one spot for a while and smelled the flowers, that’s right, I stop to smell the flowers.
I am going to call this weeks entry done, I have a lot of other stuff to get done, like my taxes, can’t be late on those like I have been for the weekly photo challenge!
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!